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Ithaca, New York, is the first U.S. city to say it will cancel rent during the pandemic

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Ithaca, New York, is the first U.S. city to say it will cancel rent during the pandemic



In Ithaca, New York, where nearly three-quarters of residents are renters, and COVID-19 has forced many out of work, a new resolution gives the mayor the power to cancel rent debt from the last three months, both for tenants and small businesses. The resolution—which also freezes rents and requires landlords to offer tenants lease extensions—requires approval from the state government, but housing activists believe that will happen. The city is the first in the country to act on nationwide calls to cancel rent because of the pandemic.

New York, like several other states, temporarily banned evictions because of the crisis. But that ban didn’t address the fact that renters who lost jobs when the economy shut down are unlikely to be able to cover outstanding rent when the eviction ban ends. “It’s sort of rescheduling the problem rather than solving it,” says Genevieve Rand, an organizer for Ithaca Tenants Union, a group that formed just before the pandemic. “There’s still the reality of the fact there’s not enough money going into the pockets of a lot of poor people. And rescheduling the time where they’ll be punished for that with eviction isn’t the same as actually keeping us safe.”

The state’s first eviction ban will expire next week, on June 20. While the governor extended the ban, the new extension grants less protection. Instead of a blanket ban, you can now be served with eviction papers and taken to housing court. At the hearing, if tenants can prove economic hardship because of the crisis, they can avoid eviction. But they’ll still have the looming problem of covering rent. And if poor or undocumented tenants don’t show up at court, they’ll automatically lose.

Homeowners, on the other hand, have gotten more protection from the state, in the form of long-term deferments of mortgage payments, short-term deferments of property taxes, and vouchers for landlords. The legislature had been working on a statewide rent cancellation bill, but it was recently dropped...



Edited by Saving For a Space Ship
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