In her first major move as governor since removing the disgraced Andrew Cuomo in August, Kathy Hochul inscribed in a law a comprehensive extension of a nationwide eviction moratorium, which should expire. Hochul, who was returning to Albany for a special session, brokered a deal with Democratic lawmakers to protect hundreds of thousands of renters through January 15.
New York lawmakers sped back to the state capital after the Supreme Court rejected the Biden government’s moratorium. Only five other states and Washington, DC still have eviction moratoriums in place. New York, more than most states, has faced a particular disaster: there are millions of tenants, many of whom are concentrated in New York City, and significant numbers have struggled through the pandemic.
Hochul has only led the state since August 24th and has been Cuomo’s humble lieutenant governor for the past six years. A tireless loyalist, but far from being close to Cuomo’s inner circle, she has tried to distance herself from the former governor since a sexual harassment scandal ended his decades-long reign. Democrats in the legislature – progressives and moderates alike – have welcomed Hochul’s more cooperative approach and enjoy negotiating with a more conventional politician who has not tried to dominate or ambush them at every turn.
When asked whether there would have been a special session on the eviction moratorium under Cuomo, Michael Gianaris, the deputy chairman of the State Senate, said bluntly: “I doubt that.”
“He never liked doing things through the legislature,” said Gianaris, a member of the Senate’s progressive faction. “We know so far that Kathy Hochul is a much more responsible person to work with.”
But the extension of the moratorium was, in a sense, a low hanging fruit. The right-wing Supreme Court had made housing a high profile national issue, and grassroots pressure was mounting. Before his fall, Cuomo had enough punch to ignore anything, but Hochul plans to run for re-election next year.
The big question – for both housing activists and sympathetic politicians who are hoping for even more in the coming months – is how far Hochul can be taken. Hochul is from the Buffalo area and served in Congress, where she advocated cuts to Medicaid and distanced herself from national Democrats in a conservative district. Cuomo named her his vice-president in 2014 precisely because she offered geographical balance without defying his ideology; both Democrats have been skeptical of the party’s left flank for much of their careers.
Circumstances can take Hochul a long way from these days. As a clerk in Erie County, before her election to Congress, she made a name for herself like future Senator Kirsten Gillibrand by aggressively opposing driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Like Gillibrand, Hochul rejected her earlier views. It’s entirely possible that she could reinvent herself as a progressive democrat in 2021.