May Day: Protesters to Gather for What Could Be Largest Rent Strike in Decades

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It has been two months since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in New York and as another deadline for rent approached on May 1, people are taking action to call for a rent freeze.

Friday is May Day, and it's especially significant for millions across the country who have lost their jobs due to the health crisis and can't afford to pay their rent. New York rent strikers surrounded Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive mansion in Albany with a caravan, protested at his New York City office, unfurled banners from apartment buildings and rallied from their homes and well as online.

Without work, around 40% of New Yorkers can’t pay a single month's rent, says Housing Justice For All, one of the organizations spearheading the #CancelRent strike in the state.

After 40 years of living in Elmhurst, Queens, Jairo Nunez says he will be missing rent for the first time in May.

"I’m not going to pay May or June. Our aim is to get something resolved from the governor. We want the governor to do something for the tenants, not just the rich people, the businesses," Nunez said. "I do have the money, but I want to be with the tenants who are not going to be able to pay rent tomorrow.”

With 18% of Americans out of work, the May 1 strike could be the largest rent strike across the country in decades.

On Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made a call for a rent freeze for the first time.

"Rent freeze to me makes a lot of sense given what people are going through. The Rent Guidelines Board needs to look at the sheer totality of what the tenants of experienced. It overwhelming, its unprecedented, the only thing in comparison is the Great Depression," de Blasio said.

The mayor continued by saying that although both tenants and smaller property landlords are hurting due to the financial fallout of the COVID-19 health crisis, he believes that a rent freeze is the "balanced approach."

Frank Ricci of the Rent Stabilization Association emphasized the mayor's concern for landlords.

"It's totally irresponsible to say 'don't pay rent.' Owners have expenses. There's tens of thousands of people. The only way they get paid is if rent gets paid," Ricci said.

On March 20, Gov. Cuomo announced a moratorium on evictions of any residential or commercial tenants in New York for 90 days but there have been no other official actions.

Meanwhile, employees from Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Target, FedEx and Walmart are also expected to protest as part of "Essential Workers Day."

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