As New York City’s taxi drivers’ fight for debt relief from the city’s taxi medallion crisis wages on, recent events have brought the issue home for Felicia Singh, an Ozone Park resident running for City Council in District 32.
Two weeks ago, the candidate came home to a “for sale” sign on her family’s house as a result of the inability of her taxi driver father, Dalip Singh, to keep up with fees on a medallion loan.
Though Dalip filed for bankruptcy in 2019, the family was not aware the house was up for sale until a broker the bankruptcy court hired knocked on their door.
Singh and her father, both of whom are active with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, were aware of the large number of taxi drivers who have had to file for bankruptcy as a result of the medallion market’s reckless lending practices and the rise of rideshare apps, but she said the looming repossession of her house took her by surprise. When she called to find out what was happening to the home, bank trustees told her the family would need to come up with a settlement amount of over $100,000 by early May or they would no longer own the house.
It’s been two years since a New York Times investigation shone a light on the lending process that led over 950 taxi medallion owners, many of them immigrants like Dalip, to file for bankruptcy. Though for Dalip and many others, their bottom line has been driven down by ride sharing apps from before the medallion bubble burst in 2014, the pandemic has only driven down ridership and been compounded by the level of financial hardship for cabbies.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance has proposed a debt relief plan that would reduce loans to $125,000 and restructure monthly repayments to about $750. The city also proposed a bailout of potentially hundreds of millions for the thousands of taxi drivers trapped in medallion debt. Last January, Rep. Greg Meeks (D-Jamaica) proposed a tax exemption on medallion debt forgiveness.
But despite the different proposals, in the interim period little has been done to offer material relief for the cabbies.
Last Thursday Singh called into WNYC's "Brian Lehrer Show" during the “Ask the Mayor” segment and attempted to get hizzoner to commit to offering city support for the medallion owners.
De Blasio started off by saying that the proposed plans to provide relief at a city level “were far beyond what [it] could do,” but that he thought that if the city were to get stimulus aid in the round that Congressional Democrats are currently trying to pass, he could direct some of it toward taxi drivers.
“Absolutely, we get stimulus dollars, we're going to be able to do something to help taxi drivers. The specific plan – I need to give you an answer, whether we think that plan is the right approach or a different one. But we will do that quickly,” he said referring to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance’s proposal, released at the end of September.
Meanwhile, Singh said that it remains to be seen how the debt relief will affect families like hers who have already entered into bankruptcy court proceedings.
“No one has the answer or the experience on how to work for the bankruptcy court in particular via the medallion crisis,” Singh told the Chronicle. “My privilege as a candidate is that I have a platform to amplify the issues and I have the connections to identify people who could possibly help. But even those folks can't.”
For 20 years her family has been living in the house, which it was initially able to make a down payment on through a fundraiser organized by Singh’s school after her sister was diagnosed with leukemia at age 8. The threat of homelessness and their attachment to the house have caused her parents a great share of grief, she said. All that she can do in the present is continue to push for the city to accept responsibility for the fate of the indebted taxi drivers.
“This is a city issue. This is about regulation. The city neglected to regulate predatory lending and two corporations Lyft and Uber,” Singh said.