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Housing Justice For All coalition going door-to-door, as hardship deadline nears

PUSH Buffalo
Housing Justice For All is seeking basic changes in the housing system, a need its says COVID-19 has highlighted.

An array of local social change groups says the effects of the continuing pandemic show the need for basic changes, from housing payments for the homeless to restrictions on evictions. The first sign of their push for change is starting now: door-to-door activity to tell people that if COVID is threatening their health or creating financial hardship, they can block eviction even if not paying rent. There is a bar date of May 1, although that could change as it has been since the start of the pandemic.

Among the groups in the Housing Justice For All coalition is PUSH Buffalo. PUSH Deputy Director of Movement Building Harper Bishop said hardship declarations have to be filed by Feb. 25.

"PUSH Buffalo started on MLK Day and has continued to canvass our organizing zone with over 500 families canvassed and conversations were had as to the declaration form and the necessity for its distribution," Bishop said. "We’ll also be using a door hanger that I just lifted up with information to over 1,000 more families."

The coalition has put together a package of legislative measures for Albany's consideration, calling for universal rent cancellation for at least 90 days past the end of the pandemic, while creating a hardship fund to pay some landlords, housing vouchers for the homeless and restrictive Just Cause Eviction to keep people in their apartments.

A Just Cause Eviction gives tenants the right to renew their leases and limits rent hikes. Partnership for the Public Good Community Researcher Sarah Wooton said it won’t hurt good landlords.

"We have a lot of mom and pop landlords who are trying to get by in a lot of cases, but good landlords don’t need to worry about just cause because good landlords take care of their property and they don’t suddenly hike up their rents, Wooten said. "With just cause, good landlords will still be very much in control of their property and they will be able to evicts tenants under certain circumstances."

Citizens Action’s Maria Marti said all this proves the old adage about how many people are a paycheck away from eviction and need help.

"As we act through this crisis and believe it, we’re only as strong as our weakest links," Marti said. "And we have been able to see first-hand that our nation has proven to be a lot weaker when it comes to making sure and ensuring that our Americans have decent living quarters."

The coalition said New Yorkers owe $2.2 billion in rent collectively.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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