CHASING THE DREAM: NEW YORKERS UNEMPLOYED & STRUGGLING TO PAY RENT

UNEMPLOYMENT HASN’T BEEN THIS BAD SINCE THE GREAT DEPRESSION

HELP NEW YORKERS NAVIGATE AN OVERWHELMED UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM

HELP SMALL BUSINESSES GET LONG-AWAITED LOANS

NEW YORK RENTERS AND LANDLORDS TOGETHER SHOULD DEMAND HELP FROM CONGRESS  

As the curve flattens, the focus now shifts to the economic devastation wrought by the virus. The state is facing record unemployment comparable to the Great Depression. New Yorkers are struggling to pay rent. Small businesses and lenders face delinquency. And landlords are bracing for the impact on all sides. So what’s next? As part of our Chasing The Dream initiative on poverty and opportunity in America, we examine how to restart the economy with Crain’s New York Business Columnist Greg David.

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Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

Aired on May 5, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS' I'M I'M.

RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

NEW YORK IS STILL THE EPICENTER OF THE NATION'S CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC BUT THE CURVE HAS FLATTENED AND THE FOCUS BEGINNING TO SHIFT TO THE ECONOMIC CAUSED BY THE VIRUS.

WITH THE STATE STRUGGLING TO PAY RENT, WHAT'S NEEDED TO RESTART THE ECONOMY, JOINING US NOW TO HELP ANSWER THAT IS CHASING THE INITIATIVE ON POVERTY IN AMERICA IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE NEW SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM GREG.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO TALK TO YOU.

ALWAYS A PLEASURE FOR ME TO BE HERE.

SO, GREG, LET ME START WITH THIS.

CAN YOU GIVE SUMMARY OF THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF THE LOCKDOWN FOR NEW YORK STATE AND NEW YORK CITY?

THEY ARE DISASTROUS AND THERE'S NO OTHER WAY TO PUT IT.

IN NEW YORK CITY SOMEWHERE IN THE ORDER OF 700,000 PEOPLE HAVE FILED FOR UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE IN THE LAST SEVEN WEEK S. THE STATEWIDE NUMBER OF PEOPLE ON UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS ALREADY IS 1.6 MILLION.

IT MEANS WE PROBABLY REACH 20% UNEMPLOYMENT.

MAYBE A LITTLE BIT HIGHER THAN THAT.

SO WHAT'S THE COMPARISON TO THAT?

THE GREAT DEPRESSION.

WHEN NATIONALLY UNEMPLOYMENT WAS SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 20 AND 25%. NOTHING SINCE THE GREAT DEPRESSION HAS BEEN THIS BAD AND OF COURSE NEVER HAS AN ECONOMY FALTERED SO QUICKLY, NOT EVEN IN THE GREAT DEPRESSION.

WOW.

SO NO PART OF THE STATE WILL BEGIN TO OPEN UP THIS ECONOMY UNTIL MAY 15, AT THE EARLIEST, IS THAT RIGHT?

YOU ARE RIGHT ABOUT THAT.

AND THE PROSPECTS FOR DOWN STATE ARE FOR LATER THAN THAT.

WOW.

SO AS YOU KNOW, GREG, THERE ARE THOSE WHO ARGUE THAT WE MOVE THE GOAL POST ON THE LOCKDOWN.

HERE AND ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

THAT WHILE ORIGINALLY THEY WERE MEANT TO FLATTEN THE CURVE SO THAT HOSPITALS WOULDN'T BE OVERWHELMED, THEY SOMEHOW BECOME A NECESSITY IN PEOPLE'S MINDS, IN LEADERS'S MINDS, UNTIL THE VIRUS IS VIRTUALLY DEFEATED, THERE BY DELAYING THE ECONOMIC RECOVER I WHY.

DO YOU THINK THAT'S AN ACCURATE PORTRAYAL OF WHAT IS HAPPENING?

I KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE THINK THAT.

I THINK PEOPLE DON'T WANT TWO SHUT DOWNS, IN ECONOMIC TERMS THAT COULD BE JUST DEVASTATING.

SO IF YOU'RE CONVINCED THE VIRUS IS NOT ELIMINATED AND WE GO BACK TO WORK WE'RE GOING TO HAVE ANOTHER REOCCURRENCE TO SHUT DOWN THE ECONOMY AGAIN, THAT'S A REASONABLE POSITION TO TAKE.

I ALSO THINK IT'S WRONG THAT MANY PEOPLE ARE EQUATING PEOPLE DIEING AND THE ECONOMY DIEING AS A CHOICE.

WELL, IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A CHOICE.

THERE ARE WAYS TO MAKE SURE THAT PEOPLE ARE ABLE TO GET THROUGH ECONOMICALLY WHILE WE DO WHAT'S NEEDED TO BE DONE WITH THE VIRUS.

SO WHILE ECK FONOMICS IS MY SPECIALTY I DON'T WANT TO TRUMP THE PUBLIC EXPERTS ABOUT WHAT WE NEED TO DO SO THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE DON'T DIE THE PRESIDENT SAYING WE ARE HEADED TO 100,000 DEATHS, HE'S NOT THE ONLY ONE SAYING THAT.

SO WHAT WILL IT TAKE IN THE NEXT FEW MONTHS TO BRING THE ECONOMY BACK OR TRY TO.

NOTHING.

THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP WE HAVE TO DO IS TO MAKE SURE THAT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE PEOPLE ARE HOME.

SO ONE OF THE GREAT PROBLEMS IN THAT REGARD HAS BEEN EMPL EMPLOYMENT -- UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE SYSTEMS WHICH WERE NOT CAPABLE OF HANDLING THE LOAD.

MAYBE WE'RE FIXING THAT IN NEW YORK.

BUT WITH THE $600 FEDERAL BENEFIT THE MAXIMUM UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT IN NEW YORK CITY THESE DAYS IS ABOUT $1,000 A WEEK AND A LOT OF PEOPLE CAN GET BY ON $1,000 A WEEK SO THAT MAKES AN IMPORTANT EFFORT.

AND AS THE GOVERNOR HAS BEEN RAILING ABOUT FOR WEEKS NOW AS WELL AS THE GOVERNORS OF CONNECTICUT AND NEW JERSEY THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS GOING TO HAVE TO HELP IN -- HELP THE STATES DEAL WITH AN ENORMOUS FISCAL PROBLEM.

IF WE DON'T GET HELP FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WHAT WE'RE GOING TO SEE IS WIDESCALE LAY OFFS, SO CITY AND STATE WORKERS, TEACHERS, ET CETERA, BECAUSE NEW YORK STATE BUDGET FOR EXAMPLE HAS A $10 BILLION HOLE.

SO IF WE DON'T GET THAT, RECOVERING IS GOING TO BE REALLY HARD.

BECAUSE JUST WHEN THE ECONOMY STARTS TO PICK UP A MILLION OTHER PEOPLE, HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF OTHER PEOPLE WILL LOSE THEIR JOB.

THE THIRD MOST IMPORTANT THING IS HELP FOR SMALL BUSINESSES.

THERE'S BEEN ENORMOUS COVERAGE OF THE DISASTER OF THE SMALL BUSINESS LOAN PROGRAM BUT I'VE BEEN TALKING TO SMALL BUSINESSES AND COLLEAGUE AND I HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING SIX TO EIGHT COMPANIES, NOT ONE OF WHICH HAS GOTTEN A SMALL BUSINESS LOAN AS OF THIS MOMENT.

WELL, IF SMALL BUSINESSES DON'T REOPEN WE'RE NOT GOING TO HAVE MUCH OF A RECOVERY.

I'VE BEEN TALKING A LOT TO A PRINTING COMPANY IN THE BRONX CALLED BRONX DESIGN, THEY SHUT DOWN EVEN EARLIER THAN THE ORDER BECAUSE THEIR BUSINESS DRIED UP.

IT'S A HUSBAND AND AND WIFE AND THEIR DAUGHTER AND FOUR EMPLOYEES.

THEY DON'T KNOW IF THEY CAN REOPEN AND THEY HAVEN'T GOT A DIME OF HELP YET.

SO IF BUSINESSES LIKE THAT CAN'T REOPEN THEN THOSE FOUR PEOPLE WON'T HAVE JOB THAT'S THEY HAD BEFORE.

THOSE ARE THE THINGS THAT ARE REALLY IMPORTANT.

QUICKLY, IS THERE ANYTHING NOT DONE.

WELL WE NEED TO GET THOSE SMALL BUSINESSES LOANS.

WE NEED TO GET THE UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM WORKING SO THAT PEOPLE ARE GETTING THE BENEFIT TO PAY GROCERIES AND PAY THE RENT.

THOSE ARE THE THINGS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN DONE YET.

AND OF COURSE WE NEED THE REPUBLICANS IN WASHINGTON TO AGREE, YES, THERE HAS TO BE SOME AID TO THE STATES.

THEY DON'T WANT TO GIVE IT, AT LEAST SO FAR THEY SAID THEY DON'T WANT TO GIVE IT BECAUSE THEY SAY ESPECIALLY THE BIG BLUE STATES LIKE NEW YORK HAVE BEEN PROVE GATED IN THEIR SPENDING IN THE PAST AND THAT IF THEY WANTED THEN MAYBE THEY SHOULD CUT THE SPENDING.

DO YOU THINK THEY HAVE SOME MERIT TO THOSE ARGUMENTS?

WELL, THAT DEPENDS, I THINK IT'S A REALLY BROAD BRUSH.

ARE THERE STATES WHO ARE MISKREENTS WHO HAVEN'T PAID THEIR PENSION BILL, YOU BET.

KENNEL KEN, MITCH McMcCONNELL'S STATE HAS THE WORST FUNDED PENSION -- ILLINOIS ACTUALLY MADE THIS VERY DIFFICULT BECAUSE THEY ASKED FOR MONEY TO PAY THEIR PENSION BILLS WHICH THEY HAD NOT PAID BEFORE.

BUT FOR MOST STATES IT'S ABOUT A DECLINE IN REVENUE.

IT'S A DECLINE IN REVENUE THAT THEY HAD NO ABILITY TO CONTROL OR DEAL WITH.

SO YOU THINK THE REPUBLICANS WILL BEND AND THE MONEY WILL COME?

I DON'T KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN ON THAT FRONT BUT I KNOW THE PRESSURE WILL MOUNT AS GOVERNMENTS CAN'T PAY THEIR BILLS.

RIGHT.

WELL, IN SPEAKING ABOUT THE STEPS HE'D LIKE TO TAKE TO REBUILD THE CITY'S ECONOMY, MAYOR de BLASIO SAID NEW YORK CITY DOESN'T JUST NEED A RE RECOVERY IT NEEDS TRANSFORMATION FOR LONG-STANDING DISPARITIES, SAME ARGUMENT SINCE TAKING OFFICE IN 2014, WHAT DO YOU THINK?

IS THIS THE TIME FOR TRANSFORMATION IN OUR ECONOMY.

I TELL YOU THIS, THAT SPEECH WENT OVER TERRIBLY OVER BUSINESS PEOPLE, FELT COMPLETELY IGNORED BY HIS TASK FORCE WHEN HE OUTLINED THAT.

S ALMOST AS IF HE WANTS TO PROCEED WITH REOPENING THE ECONOMY WITHOUT INCORPORATING CIVIC AND BUSINESS LEADERS IN HOW TO DO IT.

SO I THINK HE SQUANDERED A MAJOR OPPORTUNITY AT THAT POINT.

NOW, THAT IS NOT TO SAY THAT THE IN EQEQUITIES THAT HAVE BEEN ALS EXISTING AND HAVE BEEN DEMONSTRATED BY THIS AREN'T A BIG PROBLEM AND I THINK EVERY PEOPLE, EVERYONE WOULD RECOGNIZE THAT.

BUT REMEMBER, ON ALL THESE COUNTS, NEW YORK IS BETTER OFF THAN OTHER PLACES.

WE HAVE A MUCH BETTER SAFETY NET.

WE HAVE WAYS TO GET PEOPLE FOOD.

WE HAVE CASH PAYMENTS.

WE HAVE ENORMOUS PROTECTION FOR TENANT THAT'S DON'T EXIST ELSEWHERE IN THE CITY.

WE HAVE A ROBUST MEDICAID PROGRAM AND THE DISPARITY NUMBERS, WELL, THEY'RE NOT GOOD IN NEW YORK, THEY'RE BETTER THAN IN MANY OTHER PLACES IN THE COUNTRY.

SO IT'S A TOUGH ISSUE BUT WE HAVE TO ADDRESS THESE ISSUES.

BUT IF THAT IS THE FOCUS I THINK THE REBUILDING AND THE RECOVERY OF THE CITY WILL BE SETBACK, NOT ENHANCED.

GREAT.

AS YOU SAID, IT'S TRUE THAT SOME OF THOSE DEVICE HAS BEEN REALLY -- OF THOSE DIVIDE HAS BEEN REALLY EXPOSED.

THE DIVIDE WITH HEALTH CARE.

ONE GROUP HAS HAD GOOD HEALTH CARE AND THOSE WHO HAVEN'T ARE SUFFERING THE CONSEQUENCES OF THIS PANDEMIC MUCH MORE.

SOME OF US CAN WORK AT HOME, SOME CAN'T.

WITH ALL OF THE IMPLICATIONS OF RISK AND THAT.

BUT LISTEN, THERE'S ALSO ANOTHER DIVIDE, YOU TOUCHED ON THE HOUSING DIVIDE.

ASIDE FROM THE LOSS OF BUSINESSES AND JOBS, THE ECONOMIC CRISIS THREATENING THE LOSS OF HOUSING PARTICULARLY FOR TENANTS.

AS YOU KNOW AROUND THE COUNTRY AND HERE IN NEW YORK THERE'S ACTIVISTS AND ELECTED OFFICIAL WHO'S ARE SPEAR HEADING OR PUSHING RENT STRIKES TO DEAL WITH THAT PROBLEM.

IS THAT THE CORRECT APPROACH?

NO IT'S NOT.

I JUST SPENT LAST WEEK TALKING TO SMALL LANDLORDS AROUND TO CITY AN THE QUESTION I WANT PEOPLE TO ASK IS SO WHAT HAPPENS WHEN TENANTS DON'T PAY THEIR RENT?

WHAT HAMS WHAT HAPPENS TO THE BILLS LANDLORDS HAVE.

IT'S AS IF PEOPLE THINK EVERY LANDLORD IS A BILLIONAIRE.

WELL THERE'S LOTS OF PEOPLE WHO MANAGE TWO BUILDINGS OR 150 APARTMENTS, THEY HAVE MORTGAGES TO PAY, THEY HAVE MAINTENANCE COST TO TAKE CARE OF, THEY HAVE ENORMOUS PROPERTY TAX BILLS.

I TALK TO SOMEONE THIS WEEK WHOSE RENT ROLL, 60% OF THE MONEY HE COLLECTS EACH MONTH GOES TO PROPERTY TAXES AND HIS WATER BILL.

AND SO WHEN THE LANDLORDS CAN'T MEET THEIR OBLIGATIONS WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

WELL LOTS OF TRADESMEN WILL LOSE THEIR JOBS BECAUSE THEY WON'T GET EMPLOYMENT TO FIX UP BUILDINGS.

BUILDINGS WILL DETERIORATE.

MAYBE MORTGAGES WILL GO INTO DEFAULT.

IT'S NOT A GOOD SCENARIO.

LOOK, PEOPLE NEED HELP PAYING THE RENT.

THE UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS ARE PART OF THE SOLUTION.

MAYBE THERE NEEDS TO BE BIGGER SOLUTIONS.

MAYBE WASHINGTON COULD COME UP WITH WAYS TO HELP PEOPLE PAY THE RENT.

THERE'S ONE OTHER POINT THAT TENANT ACTIVISTS HAVE REALLY MISSED AND I THINK CREATED A LOT OF TROUBLE.

WHICH SOMEONE FROM THE FUHRMAN CENTER TOLD ME LAST WEEK, YOU KNOW, IT SHOULD BE TENANTS AND LANDLORDS TOGETHER GOING TO WASHINGTON DEMANDING HELP.

TENANTS AND LANDLORDS FIGHTING OVER WHAT TO DO WILL NOT LEAD US TO A SOLUTION.

AND YOU KNOW, I -- THE SENATE NUMBER TWO PERSON IN THE STATE SENATE, MICHAEL GIA NERIS IS ONE OF THOSE CALLING FOR A RENT WAIVER BUT I NEVER HEARD HIM SAY HOW WE'RE GOING TO FINANCE THE RENT WAIVER.

I THINK THAT'S PRETTY IRRESPONSIBLE.

YEAH.

ALL RIGHT.

WE HAVE LESS THAN A MINUTE LEFT BUT I HAVE TO ASK THE QUESTION, AFTER 9/11 THERE WAS SENTIMENT AROUND THE COUNTRY THAT CITIES WERE DONE, THAT THEY WERE HISTORY, OF COURSE NEW YORK CITY PROVED THAT WRONG BECAUSE WE HAD A BOOM OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS.

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT AFTER THIS CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC IS OVER WE'RE GOING TO PROVE THAT WE CAN REBOUND YET AGAIN?

I HOPE SO BUT I'M NOT CONFIDENT.

I'M NOT CONFIDENT BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, YOU'RE WORKING FROM HOME, AND I'M WORKING FROM HOME, WELL, AFTER 9/11 PEOPLE SAY WE WILL WORK FROM HOME BUT THE TECHNOLOGY WASN'T THAT GOOD, WE COULDN'T HAVE DONE THIS INTERVIEW AFTER TERROR OF 9/11 BUT TODAY WE CAN.

I THINK THE RISK IS GREATER.

PEOPLE ARE CONFIDENT THAT THEY'RE SAFE IN THE CITY THEN I THINK WE'LL BE OKAY BUT I DON'T KNOW WHEN THAT WILL BE.

WE HAVE TO END IT THERE, RICK, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US TODAY, AS ALWAYS BEEN A PLEASURE.

BEEN A PLEASURE FOR ME.

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