New York, NY – Thousands of Americans took to the streets and the virtual world for the #CancelRent strike on May Day — the international holiday celebrating workers from around the world.
While some workers from the Big Apple from the Housing Justice for All campaign and the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition protested outside of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York City office, others were holding a joint Facebook Live and Zoom videoconference telling their personal stories about why rent should be canceled for those struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.
Vincia Barber, a Brooklyn resident and former childcare worker was one of the strikers on the videoconference.
“Due to COVID-19 I lost my job as a childcare worker,” said Barber, who has written to Cuomo to cancel rent. “In my building, my neighbors and I reached out to other tenants.”
Barber believes that now is the time for renters get to know their neighbors and join together in solidarity — as more landlords claiming hardship threaten to abandon their buildings as a form of harassment.
“I moved into my building a year ago with a 14-year-old daughter and my landlord Jason Korn is one of New York City’s worst private landlords,” said Barber. “The condition that we are living in as tenants is appalling.”
Korn was listed as the worst landlord in New York City in 2019, according to the Public Advocate’s Office.
Korn owns about 3,000 apartments in Brooklyn and is enjoying approximately $50 million in profit from buildings he bought as far back as the 1990s, according to Barber.
Fifteen of Korn’s buildings were on the landlord watchlist in 2019, and he had an average of 2,877 NYC Department of Housing & Preservation [HPD] violations and 43 Department of Buildings [DOB] violations.
“He is gaining so much and he is not fixing anything,” added Barber. “I have mold and my 14-year-old has asthma. Then they are calling us and harassing us.”
Barber, like the other 24 million people in this country with high-contact and low-wage jobs, finds the whole ordeal to be unfair.
“Governor Cuomo, we are begging you – I wrote to you and I’m still waiting for your email,” said Barber. “I need a rent [cancellation] for four months.”
According to a Politico.com article using data from O*NET, a site that provides data on different occupations, Barber’s job as a childcare worker is number 15 in the high-contact and low-wage range for workers that will struggle the most during the pandemic. There are approximately 564,630 Americans with that career making $23,240 on average.
Higher on that list, which contained 53 occupations, were home health aides, who are ninth on the list. There are 797,670 Americans in that field that make $24,200 on average.
“Donette,” an undocumented immigrant with Lupus, lost her side job, which was cleaning houses after her boss contracted the disease and died from it, and had to go into quarantine. As a result of her health condition, she can’t work as a home health aide without putting herself at risk.
“My system is compromised because of the low white blood count,” said Donette, who didn’t want to reveal her full name because of her immigration status.
Donette is hoping for new legislation cancel rent for those who are feeling the full weight of the COVID-19 crisis.
“I believe in the government and the property owners coming together to help the struggling, the poorer class, because we are the men and women running this city,” Donette said. “The income I receive might be a fair rate, but it still does not help when 40- to 60-percent goes to rent, because of the high rent in this state. That is why we can’t stay afloat.”
Donette’s family pays $1,700 in rent and everyone in her immediate family is unemployed because of the virus.
“Whether you are a legal or illegal immigrant, work has been cut off either because you caught the virus or as a result of it,” said Donette.
Donette’s husband was working in the cleaning business with her and is unemployed. Her middle daughter, who was studying medicine at the University of West Indies, lost her waitressing job in Jamaica. Her eldest daughter is in England, but lost her job as a personal trainer. Her youngest daughter is taking classes online.
“There are thousands of us that are one paycheck away, the corona didn’t tell us that,” said Donette. “When the shutdown happened, nearly every person of every race and every class knew they were one paycheck away from struggling more and were running towards a pantry. The stimulus check shouldn’t have been withheld from some people, but not other people.”
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) introduced a cancel rent bill in April. The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act would “suspend obligations of residential renters and mortgagors to make payments during the COVID-19 emergency, and for other purposes.”
“I have some savings that might cover me until August, but I also have a 14-year-old child,” said Donette. “You are asking me to pay rent or feed my child, how do you ask a parent to do that?”