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Struggling taxi drivers have gotten $225 million in debt relief over the last two weeks, but thousands more loans have yet to be refinanced after a cabbie debt crisis, officials and advocates said Friday as the relief program deadline was extended.
Over 1,000 loans have been refinanced in the first two weeks of the program. It was announced last month after drivers appealed for years for help with a crippling economic crunch surrounding the city's famous yellow cabs.
"Every time we raised our hands to hail a cab at a curb, they responded. Now it's time for us to stand with them, and that's what we've done," Mayor Eric Adams said at a news conference where scores of drivers lined the steps of City Hall.
Still, the major lender participating in the program, Marblegate Asset Management, says it has yet to hear from the borrowers of an estimated 2,000 eligible loans. An estimated 850 loans handled by other lenders haven't been addressed, according to Bhairavi Desai of the Taxi Workers Alliance, a drivers' union.
Officials urged drivers with Marblegate loans to inquire by the program deadline — now extended by a week, to Oct. 7 — and encouraged other lenders to participate.
For decades, a taxi medallion — a permit to operate a cab — was viewed as an accessible asset that enabled a driver to earn a living and that could later be sold to finance retirement. Sen. Charles Schumer's father-in-law bought a medallion for $3,000 in the 1940s or early '50s as a "ladder up into the middle class," the Senate majority leader said at Friday's news conference.
But in recent decades, many drivers borrowed heavily as medallion prices rose, topping $1 million in 2014. Then they plunged to $200,000 a few years later as Uber and other ride-hailing services took a bite out of the yellow cab business.
Taxi industry representatives have said predatory lenders lured the largely immigrant drivers into loans they couldn't afford and didn't understand, either to purchase medallions or to tap their equity for a home, a new cab, a child's education or other expenses. Lenders denied wrongdoing. (Marblegate got into medallion lending only in 2018, managing partner Andrew Milgram said.)
After buying a medallion in 1996, Angel Miqui owed $403,000 by the start of this month and struggled to make a $2,726 monthly payment on top of his family's housing and other costs, he said. After refinancing under the new program, he now owes $170,000 and pays $1,234 monthly.
The deal has given him hope that he can gradually get out of debt and eventually, perhaps, ease up on 15-hour workdays.
"I don't feel the hook right there," Miqui said, pointing at his throat, "like I did before."
Under the program, loans are restructured to a maximum of $170,000 apiece, after a city grant of $30,000. Drivers will pay no more than $1,234 a month on the 25-year, fixed-income loans, and their balances are secured by a city-backed guarantee in case of default.
That sounds like a lifeline to Dorothy Leconte, but her lender isn't part of the program, she said.
Leconte, who bought her medallion in 1989, said she negotiated some time ago to lower her $2,600 monthly payments to $1,750. But the interest rate isn't fixed, and she expects it will shoot up next year.
Without a deal like the one in the city program, she figures, she'll have to give up on the taxi business in 2024.
"I won't be able to do it," she said.
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