AOC calls for end to ‘preferential treatment’ for wealthy in coronavirus response

Congresswoman says measures introduced so far to alleviate coronavirus impact will exacerbate racial and class divides 

Richard Hall
New York
Wednesday 01 April 2020 17:36 BST
AOC slams $2 trillion coronavirus bailout for corporations

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has called for a rent freeze in New York to address “preferential treatment” for the wealthy in the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo has issued a 90-day suspension of mortgage payments to alleviate the economic impact of the pandemic, but has not done the same for renters. Instead, evictions will be suspended for the same period but those rent payments will accumulate.

“If you called for a suspension or moratorium on mortgage payments, then we should also call for that same treatment on rent payments," congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, whose district represents 650,000 people in the Bronx and Queens, said on Tuesday.

"We’re kind of creating a class and race issue. We're essentially rewarding and offering preferential treatment to landowners and folks who are more wealthy, and we're not offering that same kind of relief to renters,” she told The Brian Lehrer Show.

The median household income for homeowners is close to double that of renter households. The concern among many renters is that the measures introduced by Mr Cuomo will only delay the inevitable.

“Tenants are being told that … just wait a couple months and then you’re going to be evicted,” Ellen Davidson, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, told CBS New York. “Over 60 per cent of households in New York City are renters, and if they turn their back on renters, this city will fall apart."

More than three million people in the US filed for unemployment the week of 16 March, around five times the previous high in 1982.

Lower-income workers are significantly more likely to be employed in industries that are vulnerable to these losses, according to an analysis by New York University released this week.

Restaurants, hotels and other service sector jobs have suffered since the outbreak began.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez said that part-time and low-wage workers are in jobs that are still operating but who can’t do their work from home, such as delivery drivers and grocery store workers "are overwhelmingly lower-income. They're black. They're brown ... and they still have to pay rent tomorrow.

"There's absolutely … racial and class inequities baked into the crisis," she told WNYC. "If you are able to stay home. You are a privileged person in this moment."

People who have recently been laid off will be facing their first rent payment since becoming unemployed on 1 April.

A recent survey found that around 40 percent of New Yorkers would be unable to pay their rent if they lost a paycheck due to the pandemic.

Mr Cuomo has hinted that the policy over rent payments could be revisited later on.

“We’ll deal with that when we get to it. I hear you. There has to be some smoothing,” he said.

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