One of the more alarming realities of the COVID-19 economic downturn is the inability for many to pay their rent. And in an effort to halt the predicted wave of evictions as housing courts reopen, the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE), other grassroots organizations, tenant leaders and elected officials are supporting the #CancelRent movement and the “We Strike Together” campaign.
Since the national lockdown began in March to curb COVID-19 transmission, tens of millions of Americans have applied for unemployment. Amidst such economic hardships, there has not been a widespread national response to help people pay rent. As Jamaal Bowman, the congressional Democratic-elect for New York City’s 16th district, plainly asked during an ACRE press conference on June 30: “How the heck are people supposed to pay their rent when they don’t have income coming in?”
The rent crisis has hit communities of color the hardest. "According to the latest U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, 30 percent of renters had little or no confidence in their ability to make their next housing payment. The proportion among Black renters was closer to 40 percent," reports The Hill.
In addition, ACRE writes on its website:
As unemployment skyrockets and tens of millions of Americans struggle with a sudden loss of income, many will be unable to pay rents or mortgages, and face eviction or foreclosure, and possible homelessness. Latinx and Black workers have been hit hardest by job losses; recent figures show the Latinx unemployment rate at 18.9 percent, and the Black unemployment rate at 16.7 percent, compared to a 14.2 percent for white Americans. These job losses, in addition to historic housing segregation and environmental racism, have contributed to greater risk from COVID-19 for communities of color.
In response, ACRE’s Make Them Pay campaign seeks to put pressure on corporate landlords who continue to make money during the pandemic by refusing to give rent relief to financially strapped tenants. “Until this pandemic ends, rent should end. It should be canceled,” said North Carolina-based ACRE member Jasmine Johnson during the press conference, emphasizing that there needs to be systemic solutions to a systemic crisis. “We do not deserve to be put out on the street because the government does not have a solution to the pandemic.”
Another goal of tenant activists is to pressure governors to extend eviction moratoriums, which halt eviction processes—from court dates to move out. As Vox reports, “Emergency eviction moratoriums are beginning to run out, if they haven’t already, and housing courts are starting to reopen. The policies that allowed renters unable to pay their bills to stay in their homes are ending.” Vox continues:
Against this backdrop, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is introducing legislation that would implement a nationwide eviction moratorium. The Protecting Renters From Evictions and Fees Act would extend eviction protections for nonpayment of rent for one year, starting from March 27, 2020. It would also substantially expand the current federal eviction moratorium so it includes most renters.
Short of federal action, it is up to governors to extend eviction moratoriums. “It is not possible that we live in a state that is not doing well economically and then are put in this position,” Floridian tenant leader Veronica Lucha, whose husband was COVID-positive, said during the ACRE press conference. Activists like Lucha are demanding that governors extend these moratoriums.
Bowman, whose district in the Bronx was experiencing a housing crisis pre-COVID, believes that the rent crisis speaks to a larger failing of the federal government. “We [the federal government] bailed out Wall Street, we bailed out large corporations, we bailed out the cruise industry, we bailed out the airline industry. We did not bail out small businesses or individuals.”
The #CancelRent movement, which has a series of actions planned this week, can be followed here. The full ACRE report, Make Them Pay, is available here.