As part of national days of protest called by Cancel the Rents, more than 60 demonstrations took place in cities and towns across the United States September 24-26 calling on Congress to immediately pass an indefinite nationwide moratorium on evictions. Protesters also demanded the cancellation of the crushing debt to landlords that had built up over the course of the pandemic as tenants’ were unable to work and back rent accumulated. Tens of billions of dollars have already been allocated for renter relief programs by the federal government, but is being distributed excruciatingly slowly — another focus of the protests. Congress has the authority to prevent 11 million evictions from taking place in the midst of a pandemic. This could be accomplished by incorporating an eviction freeze into the social spending budget that is currently under consideration.
Cancel the Rent
New York City - Eviction proceedings resumed Monday at the NYC Housing Courts. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers have been unable to cover rent due to the pandemic and the economic crisis it has caused. Members of a variety of tenants’ organizations — including Crown Heights Tenant Union, Brooklyn Eviction Defense, Cosecha, DSA Housing Working Group, Met Council on Housing and and the PSL — rallied at Brooklyn Housing Court calling for cancellation of the rents. Although the demonstrators tried to enter both Brooklyn Housing Court and Brooklyn Borough Hall, they were barred from doing so by a phalanx of police officers. “Direct action is the only thing we’ve seen that does anything. Getting arrested, making a scene, is apparently the only thing that moves our legislators so in terms of the moratorium, it was absolutely essential.
Graham, North Carolina - Amy Cooper said she and a handful of other activists came together at Court Square in Graham on Wednesday for an event touting tenants' rights while decrying evictions. "A lot of landlords take advantage of people not knowing their rights, so one of the things we want to do is push tenants' rights so people know what they can and can't do as a tenant," Cooper said. Cooper's thoughts echo criticism from housing advocates across the country. Last Wednesday, housing rights advocates held simultaneous nationwide demonstrations in the hopes of sparking a paradigm shift away from the current system of landlords using evictions as a threat against tenants. Many argue housing is a human right and the system should reflect that.
Portland, OR - I know it is often hard to see, but significant elements of the folks in power at various levels of government are keenly aware that we're in a crisis, and they want to avoid a total meltdown of the social order. They often like to act blasé and in control of the situation, they like to pretend that we all believe we live in a society governed by law, where we all play by certain rules that are more or less sacred. But really they know they rule over a house of cards that sits on top of a powder keg, and there's a fire burning nearby, which they need to keep from reaching the powder keg, and any notions of the rule of law are relatively worthless when millions of people are suddenly unable to house themselves or put food on the table.
Even as 2020 took turns for the worst, the seeds of justice and liberation extended their roots. For decades to come, 2020 will be remembered for the failures of politicians and capitalism. In a selfish bid to “save the economy” and rally his base ahead of the election, President Trump and his allies spread disinformation about COVID-19 and threw common-sense public health measures into the meatgrinder of partisan politics. Predictably, the United States became one of the world’s worst hot spots for COVID-19, exposing every crack and fault line in society. As of this writing, the death toll is nearing 300,000. To say that the Trump administration failed to flatten the curve is a gross understatement.
With their savings running out, many Americans are being forced to use credit cards to pay for bills they can't afford — even their rent. Housing experts and economists say this is a blinking-red warning light that without more relief from Congress, the economy is headed for even more serious trouble. There's been as much as a 70% percent increase from last year in people paying rent on a credit card, according to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. "If you're putting your rent payments on to a credit card, that shows you're really at risk of eviction," says Shamus Roller, executive director of the nonprofit National Housing Law Project.
Standing outside the four-story brick apartment building in Crown Heights she calls home, Jemiah Johnson took her turn with the black megaphone. “This building is literally killing us!” the 26-year-old mother shouted to the small crowd of neighbors waving homemade signs scrawled with phrases like DEFEND RENT STRIKERS and TENANT POWER. “My child is waking up three or four times in the middle of the night struggling to breathe.” At the November rally, she and her fellow mask-clad tenants described a long-standing pattern of neglect and shoddy repairs: crumbling ceilings, leaky pipes, walls caked with mold, repeated desultory work that never truly fixes anything.
Kansas City tenants chained themselves to the doors of the Jackson County Courthouse downtown Thursday morning and shut down virtual eviction proceedings with online disruptions. The protest, organized by KC Tenants, drew about 100 people, who held signs saying “eviction kills” and “court’s closed today.” They called on Jackson County Circuit Court Presiding Judge David Byrn to halt the hearings. For months, KC Tenants has been pushing Byrn to reestablish an eviction moratorium to keep residents in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic and associated economic crisis.
On Tuesday, when the rent was due once again and as 43 million Americans braced for possible eviction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a nationwide eviction moratorium that will run from Friday through Dec. 31. This eviction moratorium, unlike the one under the CARES Act policy that expired in late July, appears to apply to all rental units nationwide. Now, regardless of whether they receive federal funding or financing, landlords may not evict their tenants based on their inability to pay the rent.
The first time she remembers protesting in the region, about 10 years ago, Tara Maxwell was outside the Virginia home of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. His wife Virginia, the target of Maxwell’s ire that day, is a prominent right-wing lobbyist and current adviser to President Donald Trump’s administration. “If I can protest at Clarence Thomas’ house, I can protest at anybody’s house,” Maxwell says dryly. “It doesn't bother me.” So when Maxwell, an independent contractor with experience in law enforcement and political consulting, moved into the Park 7 Apartments on Minnesota Avenue NE last August, she was not afraid to raise hell over problems with her living conditions.
Calls to rent strike have yet to cohere into a national political movement. But as the economic crisis deepens, tenants’ fates will ultimately be decided by their level of collective organization. With the arrival of the pandemic, staying home became emergency work for a failing state. Amid disastrous negligence at every level of government, one of the most ordinary facts of life in capitalism—rent—suddenly appeared clearly as an affront. “One section of society here demands a tribute from the other for the very right to live on the earth,” Marx wrote of landlords. In the early spring, with state-level and nationwide eviction moratoriums and tenant protections in place, it seemed like there had never been a better time to refuse these bad terms. Calls to rent strike brought grassroots tenant unions to the foreground. Through the spring, thousands of people turned to tenant organizing, many for the first time.
The federal government has given millions of dollars to corporate landlords accused of inhumane eviction practices, poor maintenance of their buildings, and unfair rent increases. These landlords received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, billed as a means to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic. Borrowers don’t have to pay back the loan if it is used for payroll, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities. But some of those companies were corporate landlords accused of mistreating their tenants.
With an estimated 17 to 40 million people at risk of losing their homes by the end of September, and with the failure of the federal government to pass an eviction moratorium or an unemployment benefits extension, the greatest eviction and foreclosure crisis since the Great Depression is now upon us. In some states in the Southeast, as many as 60% of renters are at risk of being evicted, and people of color are likely to be hit disproportionately hard. The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey in July, for example, highlighted that 42% of Black renters felt little to no confidence in their ability to pay rent this August, compared to 21% of White renters. For the percentage of renter households at risk of eviction in each state.
Dozens of New Yorkers marched through the streets of Brooklyn Wednesday morning before entering two landlord attorney firms buildings and Brooklyn Borough Hall calling for a ban on evictions and cancellation of rent in the Big Apple. The demonstration comes just hours before New York's residential eviction moratorium expires, leaving thousands of tenants vulnerable to homelessness. Fears are mounting over how many residents will manage to keep a roof over their heads as dismal research released at the end of July revealed almost half of New York renters were unable to pay rent.
Emily Benfer began her career representing homeless families in Washington, D.C. Her first case involved a family that had been evicted after complaining to their landlord about the holes in their roof. One of the times she met with the family, one of the children, a 4-year-old girl, asked her: “Are you really going to help us?” Benfer struggled with how to answer. “I’d met them too late,” she said. “I couldn’t stop the eviction. They had already been sleeping on the subway, and in other people’s homes. And you could see the effects it was taking on them.” Today, Benfer is a leading expert on evictions. She is the chair of the American Bar Association’s Task Force Committee on Eviction and co-creator of the COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard with the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.