Millions of renters are in the same boat. They are laid off. They have been juggling payments: student loans, utilities, health care, and credit cards. They can’t afford to move. And the landlord is leaving curt messages: Where’s the Rent?
In an average year, landlords file three million eviction cases in the U.S. But this is no ordinary year. Tens of millions of workers are currently unemployed, dwarfing the 2019 figure of five million jobless. The establishment has dismally failed to protect the country from COVID, which continues to spread nationwide. Despite this huge economic-health crisis that has fallen hard on the shoulders of the 110 million renters, the big developers and landlords single-mindedly want their money.
Forty-two states enacted COVID-19 eviction moratoriums earlier this year. Almost half of the moratoriums are currently expiring – at the same time as the $600 unemployment top-up, creating a severe income crisis that will likely see a tsunami of evictions over the summer months.
The COVID lockdowns did not deter some landlords from illegally sending tenants threatening notices to leave, kicking some tenants out of their homes, and in some cases even changing locks on renters while they were out shopping. For the worst landlords out there, money is more important than life.
Staying and Fighting Your Eviction
The dark cloud over all renters is homelessness. Like so many of capitalism’s ills, homelessness is systemic and built into the system to terrorize tenants into paying exorbitant rents and to be constantly in fear of evictions. In California, America’s richest state, 100,000 people were living on the streets pre-pandemic. A City of San Francisco survey revealed that job loss and eviction were the leading cause for four-of-ten homeless people. Another way of putting that is that low pay and high rent lose people their homes.
Many tenants, faced with no money for rent, have borrowed from friends and family. Others have joined the couch surfing world, doubling up with friends. Many low-paid workers who travelled to the big cities for work have returned home. However, many millions more have no such options and for those with their backs to the wall, there is only one solution: Organize!
Rent Strike 2020 (RS2020) is the broad group that was initiated at the beginning of the pandemic to fight for federal and statewide rent relief and to organize tenants to save and not pay rent in May. The group has Facebook pages in 15 cities with thousands of members. In recent months, RS2020 has helped organize tenants around a stay-and-fight framework. Tenants have organized their buildings, begun negotiations with landlords, and have either won rent reductions or refused to pay rent.
Those evicted in America are more likely to be people of color and single mothers with kids. Black women are the most likely demographic to face eviction. Many of these families will be anxious about their housing security and desperate to avoid the streets.
In the Great Recession of 2008-9, the mass wave of foreclosures and evictions primarily hit homeowners. Organized around the name Occupy Homes – which organized mass community direct action against evictions – thousands of people resisted evictions from Minneapolis to Atlanta. All renters and homeowners need to band together to protect our communities no matter who is in danger of eviction.
What to Do When You Get a “Notice to Leave”
Renters protections are different across the nation. But the key moment for all renters will be when they get a 30-day Pay or Quit notice on their door. RS2020 is arguing: Do Not Leave! In most states this is notice to pay up your rent or the landlord will take you to court. Many states have increased protections during the pandemic: find out the law. But remember the laws were never written with the notion that everyone has the right to housing, they were likely written by landlords and developers, Democrats and Republicans. Do not Leave!
Our real protections are ourselves. Flier your fellow renters, the other buildings owned by your landlord and your whole neighborhood. There is safety in numbers. Contact your local RS2020 group for advice and back up. Let the landlord know he is fighting a whole community, it will cost him his reputation, and if others join in withholding their rent money, it might cost him money.
If the landlord pushes forward to take you to court for an eviction, that will cost him money too, and he is all about the money. The courts will be swamped with cases. In Michigan, there are 75,000 eviction cases waiting to be heard. We want to pack the court rooms, build the movement and expose landlord greed on social media. This is homelessness-prevention. Once homeless, climbing back onto the rental merry-go-round with a big security deposit plus first and last is almost impossible for the low paid.
If the courts don’t back off under public and political pressure, then the sheriffs will come into action to attempt to remove your things from the building. This is not personal. This is a fight between the system of extracting money from working people on the one side and renters on the other. Mass demonstrations, including blocking the road in and out of the neighborhood can prevent evictions. This is how workers have fought historically to defeat evictions.
The confidence in police has also taken a dive over their handling of demonstrations for George Floyd. Many people already think they are a force to defend racism, but them being exposed as a force to defend developers and landlords is not a good look for capitalism.
Ultimately we need a society with decent and secure publicly owned homes. We want to cut the landlord out of the picture, and with it, the constant fear of homelessness. Ultimately a socialist society. But to get there we must have a united working class movement, independent of big business and its money, and built through struggle. If we do not organize, we will lose our homes. If we organize, en masse, we can win a whole new and better world.