NYC Tenants’ Post-Lockdown Crisis

First published in June 2021 at

Since the beginning of the lockdown one of the biggest concerns for many New York City tenants has been whether or not they have the ability to pay rent due to unemployment. Some landlords such as Mario Salerno of Williamsburg, Brooklyn have been reducing the stress for tenants. Salerno generously allowed tenants to skip their rent payment of April last year–though unbeknownst to him how long the lockdown might last. Take into consideration he owns 80 apartments consisting of more than 200 tenants and other private businesses to attend to. Salerno has always been known to my family as a friend. To the neighborhood he is known as a hardworking man with a heart of gold. The landlord has said on many occasions that he doesn’t care for money, but would much rather make sure that his tenants are safe and healthy.

In early 2021, the state of New York reopened the applications for federal help with rent payments after failing to spend more than half of the funds in the beginning of the pandemic. Only $40 million of the $100 million that had been given to the state has been spent back in 2020 because tenants said that the program was difficult to qualify for. Almost 58,000 tenants were denied relief. In order to qualify for this program, tenants were required to earn less than 80% of the median income in their area, for an average family of four. In New York that consists of around $90,960, and the program required that the tenant must pay 30% more of their income in rent before it was altered by the pandemic. Understanding the difficulties that some tenants faced with this program the Home and Community Renewal’s changed the requirements. Now tenants are asked to show proof of “rent-burdens” meaning proof that households are spending more than 30% of their income solely on rent from April to July. But even with these new changes to the program, people including tenants and housing activists claimed that the program does not cover the cost of rent, while others are struggling to even submit their applications because of so many requests.

As of early 2021 over one billion dollars of unpaid rent has been owed by tenants in New York City alone, but landlords cannot evict their tenants because of the Eviction Moratorium issued by the CDC. Though researchers have found that eviction occurrences have doubled in neighborhoods with predominantly Black and Latino communities and have been five times higher in poorer communities compared to neighborhoods with their rich, white counterparts. There have even been details of landlords becoming hostile with their tenants, only promising to bring power and water service to those who pay their rent or making tenants live in unbearable conditions in order to have them leave on their own. Women such as Winsome Pendergrass explained to the Daily News that at first her landlord had been understanding, but as time went on he became frustrated with the lack of rent money, repeatedly calling Pendergrass in order to receive some kind of payment whether it be with credit cards or checks. He went so far as to threaten to evict her.

In these circumstances we are in, it’s easy to see how unfair NYC tenants have been treated. We are all struggling to make ends meet while dealing with a pandemic. I myself have dealt with a stubborn landlord these past few months. Unwilling to help fix things in our apartment, he claimed to only handle emergencies, but didn’t recognize the hole in the outlet where the electricity could cause a fire in my sister’s room. When there was a leak in our bathroom it took almost a month for them to realize it was a problem.

And gentrification has always been a big problem in Williamsburg, causing a massive amount of homelessness. With the events of the pandemic it has worsened. Walking down the street you see people with their furniture and clothing laid out for everyone to see. Even with the eviction moratorium landlords have found a way to make tenants leave.

Works Cited
Cuomo, Andrew, M. & RuthAnne Visnauska. “COVID Rent Relief Program.” HCR. 23 Oct. 2020.
Greene, Leonard. “ ‘I Don’t Like Owing Anybody’: NYC Tenants Fail Pandemic-Related Relief, but Landlords Remain Skeptical.” New York Daily News. 11 Apr. 2021.
Ibarra, Rebeca. “Williamsburg Landlord Waives April Rent for Struggling Tenants.” Gothamist. 3 Apr. 2020.
Krauth, Dan. “$1 Billion in Unpaid NYC Rent Due to Covid Pandemic: Check Your Neighborhood Here.” ABC 7. 22 Feb. 2021.
Pereira, Sydney. “NY Is Sitting On $60 Million In Federal Rent Relief Weeks Before Spending Deadline.” Gothamist. 20 Nov. 2020
Pereira, Sydney. “Cuomo Launches “terrible” Rent Relief Measure, Giving Tenants Just Two Weeks to Sign-up.” Gothamist. 16 Jul. 2020.
Walensky, Rochelle, P. “Temporary Halt In Residential Evictions To Prevent The Further Spread Of Covid-19.” CDC. 28 Mar. 2021.