Citing the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the leadership of People United for Sustainable Housing, better known as PUSH Buffalo, announced Monday it will cancel rents in April for its low-income resident and commercial tenants.
The move affects 99 residential and five commercial tenants. Agencies in the latter category include Ujima Company, Peace of the City, and the African Heritage Food Co-op.
"The reality is that they may never recover without a safety net," said PUSH Buffalo executive director Rahwa Ghirmatzion. "It is for this reason that push the push buffalo board unanimously voted to approve a rent holiday for April."
PUSH Buffalo board members say the pandemic, and the business closings and layoffs that have come with it, are testing a system which, they contend, was never as strong as it was made to seem.
"The board of PUSH Buffalo feels that this rent holiday is an essential investment in public health," said board member Tori Kuper. "In order to flatten the curve, huge parts of our economy have ground to a halt. Business as usual is over and we need to accept that. It would be unethical to force rent collection now. And it would undermine everything we've worked fo. Landowners, banks and large corporations are getting the bailouts and protections. Our tenants deserve the same."
Ghirmatzion says their rent relief is not charity but, rather, a show of solidarity. She and other members of PUSH Buffalo's administration are urging other local landlords to consider similar relief for their tenants.
"Housing is health care. Housing is a human right," said Harper Bishop, PUSH Buffalo's Deputy Director of Movement Building. "In this moment of precarity, housing provides stability and no one should be made to be housing-insecure in a moment when they and their loved ones are in the fight of their lives."
Among the residential residents who will see rent relief in April is Providencia "Provy" Carrion. She expressed gratitude for the measure, explaining that under normal circumstances she would spend an estimated $80 per month on groceries. Upon the coronavirus outbreak, concerned that she could find herself forced to stay in for an extended period of time, she's now spending $200.
"I know that a lot of children and seniors are struggling because of this epidemic," she said.
Ghirmatzion added that the organization was seeking support from philanthropic sources as part of their exploration of the possibility they may need to again waive rents in the month of May.