BY KAZU MAKINO, CARLA PHILLIPS AND ALPHONSE DiPILATO | We are all hard-working longtime residents of the Lower East Side who, like everyone, have been affected by the pandemic. We have careers that don’t have regular hours or pay. Because of that, we have not qualified for or were denied rent relief.
Kazu is a self-employed musician who has lived in the Lower East Side for 20 years and was denied rent relief through New York State’s Homes and Community Renewal program.
Carla is a freelance photographer who has lost work due to COVID and was also denied rent relief.
Alphonse is a delivery worker who lost his employment and has been trying to get rent relief since October 2020.
All of us are in a tenuous position because, even after a year, the New York State Legislature has failed to provide substantive support for renters.
Last summer, each of us worked hard to apply for H.C.R.’s COVID-19 Rent Relief Program. It took a long time to gather the myriad, necessary information to apply for H.C.R.’s Rent Relief Program — including immigration status documents, tenant employment attestation, tenant rent attestation, tax records, signed lease and other documents — in addition to having to fill out the multiple pages of the application itself.
Because Kazu is a musician with income that varies greatly from month to month and year to year, she was working less in 2019 and was denied aid for having too much unemployment income compared to the prior year. She asked that her income be averaged over months or years, but was told that her unemployment income was too high, therefore disqualifying her for rent relief. In essence, she was told that she is too poor to get rental assistance.
Alphonse has called three times a week, waiting hours on the phone with H.C.R., but hasn’t been able to get any answers about rent relief. People who have not worked can’t come up with landlords’ demands for 12 months worth of rent if they can’t even come up with one month of rent.
How many other tenants who don’t work 9-to-5 jobs of the estimated 1.3 million New Yorkers who are behind on rent will also be denied assistance during this pandemic? There was no provision made for people who don’t work regular hours. We have fallen through the cracks of this system.
Only 15,000 tenants received aid from the first application period. Sixty million dollars out of $100 million was not distributed in the first round because requirements for eligibility were so stringent. More than 57,000 people out of about 94,000 applicants were denied in that first round alone. And, even if we had qualified, we still wouldn’t have received enough to pay the total amount of back rent while we are out of work.
Another means-tested program like S2742A/A3918A, sponsored by state Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, will likely mean that we, and the majority of the million-plus tenants like us, will be disqualified for or otherwise unable to access rental assistance again. If only 94,000 of the estimated 1.3 million people who need assistance apply again, the vast majority of New Yorkers will be left to fend for themselves.
So many New Yorkers are artists like us. Artists are immigrants, working people who make their living from gig to gig. Millions more New Yorkers work in the service industry. Our city’s small businesses, restaurants and bars thrive on the labor of many of us. We are New York — and New York must have a rent relief program that works for us.
Fortunately, there is such a program. We must pass S4050/A2617, sponsored by state Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, and clear rent arrears for tenants — or most New Yorkers like us will simply be left behind.