The surge in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s popularity recently has been attributed to his “steady” response to the coronavirus pandemic gripping parts of his state, particularly in New York City. He’s been busy issuing all manner of executive orders intended to provide relief to the people most directly affected by the virtual shutdown of movement and commerce, grinding many businesses to a halt and leading to massive numbers of people without employment. One of these measures isn’t sitting too well with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, however.

The order in question provided relief to homeowners who may be unable to make their mortgage payments during the worst of the pandemic, suspending those payments for up to three months for qualifying residents. So what’s wrong with that? According to AOC, he’s leaving renters behind and favoring the wealthy. And since minorities tend to be less likely to own their own homes, that makes the policy racistof course. (NY Post)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took aim at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to suspend mortgage payments but not rental payments during the coronavirus outbreak, accusing him of giving “preferential treatment” to wealthier New Yorkers.

“If you called for a suspension or moratorium on mortgage payments, then we should also call for that same treatment on rent payments,” AOC said during an appearance on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show” 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,” the Democratic socialist continued.

AOC’s complaints tie into the “rent strike” that many New York City renters are attempting to pull off, with the support of Ocasio-Cortez. But the protests demonstrate either a lack of understanding of the underlying facts or a willful blindness to them.

First of all, the renters aren’t seeking a delay in paying their rent. They are seeking a “forgiveness” of the rent payments so they will basically be given free rent for at least three months. As I previously explained, that’s not really an option for most landlords absent another massive stimulus boost from the federal government. But the Governor has already made provisions for renters by suspending all evictions for three months, giving them time to receive their federal stimulus checks and begin receiving federally enhanced unemployment benefits.

The situation with the homeowners is entirely different. They aren’t having the total principal of their mortgages reduced by an amount equal to three months worth of payments. The payments are simply being deferred and tacked on to the end of their mortgage’s lifespan. In each situation, the affected individuals are being given the same period of time to get caught up and resume normal payments, whether it’s a landlord or a lender receiving the funds.

As far as calling the policy “racist” goes, this is the usual kvetching that’s applied to any broad government policy. The reality is that this isn’t a question of the color of people’s skin, but the amount of income they have available. People who make the least money in areas with the highest housing costs are the ones most likely to end up renting. And in many dense urban centers, that may mean the minority residents will be affected in disproportionate numbers, but the policies themselves apply to all people equally.

Further, the homeownership figures in Gotham portray a less straightforward picture than the one AOC is painting. As of 2018 (the last year for which we have complete figures) homeownership in the five boroughs was 33%, but it varied wildly depending on where you live. In Manhattan, it was only 24%, with the Bronx being even worse at 20%. But in Queens, it was 45% and on Staten Island, it was seventy(!).

The racial breakdown of homeownership also held some surprises. If you think whites were the most likely to own their own homes in the Big Apple, guess again. Asians lead the pack with a 41% rate, while whites came in second at 37%. And Black residents don’t have the lowest homeownership rate. That “prize” goes to Hispanics at 19%.

It’s always easy to play the race card and this case is no exception. But when you look at the realities underlying the way the pandemic and the government’s response to it are affecting people, the picture is far too complicated to paint this in simple, black and white terms. (Pardon the pun.)