NEW YORK – An emergency measure that protects not only renters but also property owners is being proposed by the Greek-American and New York State Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris, which will hopefully mitigate the effects on New Yorkers of the measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Sen. Gianaris spoke with The National Herald on March 24 about the relief measures. “I believe that relief measures should not start from the top down, but from the lower to the highest levels,” he said, noting that “I had first mentioned the three-month suspension of rent collection with relief measures for property owners as well.”
At the same time, the state senator urged citizens – and especially the younger ones – to insist that they move without delay, to follow the guidelines immediately and to reflect on the risks posed by their behavior to themselves, their families and, in general, to the public health.
TNH: Sen. Gianaris, we are experiencing the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, and the situation in New York State and the rest of the world is, at all levels, dramatic. What will be the reaction on the part of the elected representatives?
Sen. Michael Gianaris: First of all, to say that the most important thing is to keep everyone safe at this time. We must, first of all, listen to the advice of those who know. We should not leave the house unless it is necessary and do not associate with other people, as they may spread the virus. In general, we should do everything we can to get through this situation as quickly and painlessly as possible. Indeed, as you said, the situation is dramatic. In fact, it is the most dramatic our generation has experienced. We may see the consequences for years, especially in the economy. We had to close the shops, which was right, but it has repercussions as the economy stops. Fatal people will have big problems. I believe that relief measures should not start from the top down, but from the lower ranks to the higher. Not to start with the big companies and then help the smaller ones, but to start with those who really need the most help.
TNH: We have read in recent days that you are proposing to the State Senate a package of relief measures, which will provide for a three-month suspension of rent payments. How is this going to be promoted? Will there be countermeasures for property owners as well?
MG: Many tenants live paycheck to paycheck. Our first concern is to help those who, because of the situation, have lost their income. The proposal is to get rid of the rent for three months. Not to pay it later, but to get rid of it for the quarter. I think it’s unreasonable to complain: How will someone who has no income, so no money, pay you? We are trying to help these people. The second step we will take is to support small and medium-sized property owners – who are working people like my parents – so that things don’t get too difficult for them. The bill would therefore provide for a three-month “freeze” on mortgage payments (this is also a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo).
TNH: Of course there are also some property owners, who may not pay their mortgage installments but the rent they collect is their only income…
MG: Step by step, we will help them all. Speaking of rent again, as I told you, when someone who is living paycheck to paycheck suddenly cannot work and loses their income, he or she has no money to pay anyway! Even if a landlord complains to his tenant, regardless of this law, will he be able to get money from someone who has not been paid and therefore has no money? We are trying not to have tens of thousands more homeless at the end of the day. When all this is over, we will have to see how we stand on our feet. We will all have problems and we will all have to make sacrifices. The job of political leadership is to see how they can alleviate these problems, in this case for both renters and landlords. We are talking about installment exemptions, so the banks will not get it, but the federal government will give the bailout.
TNH: Are the State legislators meeting remotely now?
MG: Look, Albany has not closed, but we try not to meet too often, sending the message that we are doing what we ask everyone to do. We’ll have to meet again next week to vote on the budget. Also, I want to emphasize that our offices may be closed, but we are open to the public. We still receive messages, they can contact us. We had intervened, for example, in a building situation last week, where there was no hot water or heating.
TNH: Are you satisfied with people’s response to the order to stay home?
MG: It’s the most important thing we can do, but I’m not satisfied. Specifically in Astoria, I see that young people have not understood. Saturday, Astoria Park was full of people! It’s dangerous, especially for those who go there, regardless of age. Fifty-four percent of cases in New York are people under 50 years of age. It is a mistake to believe that it concerns only the elderly. Also, these young people themselves will contact their parents and family, and if they get infected, they will spread the virus. We have two options: Either we become Italy or we become South Korea. The Koreans acted quickly, stayed home, checked the situation and did not have those losses. We have to stay home! When you go out, it’s like killing people! Think about it, not that it’s a nice day and we have to go out and have fun. We can kill others like that.
TNH: What is the message you want to send to the Greek community?
MG: The main concern for me is to help New York – and especially the areas I represent – overcome the dire straits at this time. I am a child of the Diaspora, I am known in the Greek-American community, they know where I am and I always have the community in mind. We are experiencing a crisis that we have not experienced in decades. We are always trying to see what we can do and how to help. I want to help the people. We listened to the tenants, then we heard the property owners, and we modified the bill. Only if we are united will we win.