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Making Rent When The Paycheck Abruptly Stops

Elisa Amendola
A woman in Boston sits on the stoop outside of her rental apartment. It's the first of the month and everybody knows the rent's due.

Rent comes due this week for many people. For Long Islanders who’ve lost their jobs or paychecks due to the coronavirus, the pandemic may cause more than a health crisis.  

Jackie Masse pays about $650 a month to rent a single room in a house in Suffolk County. 

She says the state and county government have asked a lot of people to stop going in to work to prevent the virus from spreading, but that doesn’t stop the bills from coming in.

“You put the state on pause, that should be across the board, that should mean that the things that we work for, we work to pay those bills so those bills should be put on pause too.”

Renters across Long Island who live paycheck to paycheck now have to dig into their savings to make rent.

New York State has stopped the enforcement of evictions until June, but Masse says that’s not enough.

“You’re just delaying the inevitable. You’re good for now, but you’re going to have this pile of obligation placed on you when it’s not like when jobs do pick up, you’re not going to get four months of pay at that time.”

The state is considering legislation to suspend rent collection for 90 days for people who were hurt by the pandemic. 

State Senator Kevin Thomas of Long Island is a cosponsor of the legislation.

“We are in an emergency situation here. Individuals that were living paycheck to paycheck no long have a paycheck. They now have to choose between paying rent or putting food on their tables for their families.”

He says the bill also allows landlords to get a deduction on their mortgages.

“This also helps landlords because if tenants are not paying the monthly rent, they can use that towards a deduction of their mortgage payments to the bank.”

RJ Wuagneux is a music history Ph.D. student at Stony Brook University. He gets a stipend from the school. He also works gigs and teaches guitar for supplementary income.

Wuagneux rents a home with his wife near the college. He makes about $1,600 a month from his side jobs and pays half the rent and utilities which is about $1,000.

He says he’s lost his side jobs because of the pandemic.

“In the past month, I would say, I have had six gigs cancelled.”

Wuagneux says they’re already hurting.

“Just this one-month loss is going to take me a year to recover from.”

Wuagneux says he’ll dig into savings for this month’s rent, but that won’t go far unless the state helps.

“It just shows where their priorities lie, which is to also say action speaks louder than words. Or inaction speaks louder than words.”

He says if the pandemic keeps going and the state doesn't help renters, then he just won’t be able to pay rent.

The legislation has support in the State Assembly and Senate, but Governor Cuomo said at a press conference this week that suspending evictions is enough. 

Some residents and activists are planning rent strikes and protests if the state doesn’t take action.

Read the latest on WSHU’s coronavirus coverage here.

Do you have questions you’d like WSHU to answer in local coverage of the coronavirus? Let us know via this survey.

Jay Shah is a former Long Island bureau chief at WSHU.
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