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Lost jobs, wages have some Long Island tenants considering rent strikes

Newsday's Steve Langford talks with Long Islanders about

Newsday's Steve Langford talks with Long Islanders about difficulties paying rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, on this first day of the month. Credit: Newsday / Yeong-ung Yang

Many Long Island tenants who lost their jobs after nonessential businesses shut down due to the coronavirus could be on the brink of going on a rent strike, advocates say, joining countless others nationwide in a burgeoning movement.

“Rent Strike 2020,” organized by political, housing and social justice groups across the country, has included virtual meetings in New York City and other cities like Los Angeles and Houston, all of which have temporarily banned evictions.

“The rent issue is a crisis of remarkable proportions,” said Lucas Sanchez, director of the Long Island region for New York Communities for Change, a social justice organization. “People are being backed into a corner where they have no choice but to rent strike.”

New York-based groups held a digital meeting Wednesday to release a “tool kit,” an online guide on how to organize a rent strike while adhering to social distancing. The kit includes a hotline number, with options for Spanish speakers, and tenants having issues with landlords during the pandemic. That hotline number is 212-979-0611.

The kit also includes templates for letters demanding a rent strike and a petition asking Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to cancel rent at least through the end of the pandemic. The state recently issued a 90-day moratorium on evictions.

“No one should be displaced or go into debt because they can’t pay their rent or their mortgage,” the organizers said in the digital pamphlet. “No one should have to pay rent/mortgages/utilities during this time, and banks and landlords should not be allowed to collect payment for these months later.”

Orders to close nonessential businesses left thousands in the service industry — many living paycheck to paycheck — without any income.

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Sanchez said there are hundreds living in apartment buildings in Hempstead with no source of income to pay their rent or bills since losing their jobs. Among them is Ana Dighero, 62.

Dighero worked at a beauty salon and cleaned houses. She lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment in Hempstead, where most of her neighbors are also out of work and facing similar circumstances, she said.

“The people that live here cut grass, garden, work in construction, but now they’re all home,” Dighero said. “I’m worried about my bills, my rent. If I cannot pay my rent, I will be evicted. I will have to go to the street.”

She wants the state to cancel rent because there’s simply no other choice.

“We don’t have money to pay for it," Dighero said.

Though she has had conversations about organizing a rent strike, Dighero said renters would prefer for the state to grant them relief without being pressured by a strike. “They want a resolution at home," she said of her fellow renters, "not to fight."

For many in Dighero's situation, skipping rent is their only choice because they don't have the money to do otherwise, Sanchez said.

“We’re waiting for hope. We’re waiting for the government. We’re waiting for the disease to finish,” Dighero said. “I’m not working, I can’t get out, what can I say? People are waiting at home to die." 

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