How and Why to Cancel Rent During the Pandemic Depression

The rallying cry to cancel rent has been heard since the early days of the pandemic, but it takes on new urgency now as the economic effects of the pandemic linger past the expiration date of eviction moratoriums.

August 20, 2020, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Rent Jubilee

David Odisho / Shutterstock

Lupe Arreola, executive director of Tenants Together in California, and Amee Chew, a Mellon-ACLS public fellow, write an opinion piece for the Guardian that makes the case for aggressive action to mitigate the effects of the pandemic depression on renters in cities around the United States.

First, the duo lay out the current situation facing U.S. renters as eviction moratoriums expire at every level of government, with back rent owed.

As many as 40 million people nationwide face eviction due to inability to pay rent. In comparison, the 2008 foreclosure crisis saw the loss of 10m homes. Now, millions – seniors, people with disabilities, parents and children – are at risk of homelessness. Eviction preys disproportionately, in many places overwhelmingly, on Black women and people of color, deepening savage racial inequities.

The action recommended by Arreola and Chew is to cancel rent and mortgage payments. It's the "most effective solution to the mounting debt and mass displacement threatening working-class communities, communities of color and low-income households during and after the Covid-19 pandemic," according to this opinion.

Moreover, the duo recommend an action commensurate with the scope of the problem, and to provide universal support to ensure that no one falls through the cracks:

We must protect renters universally by canceling rent for all renters, regardless of income, employment or immigration status. This eliminates applications, proofs of eligibility and waits for relief. By protecting all renters, we swiftly aid the most marginalized among them. Universal rent cancellation promotes race, gender and economic justice because of who renters are: mostly working-class or low-income, and disproportionately of color. In contrast, requiring renters to apply for assistance means that huge swathes of people fall through the cracks.

Still, the article acknowledges that the rent relief package proposed here won't solve the fundamental issues driving the crisis, like real estate speculation and a development market tilted toward private companies and the high-end market. "To truly address the housing crisis, we must limit rents and massively fund social housing that is permanently affordable," according to the opinion. Also recommend: stopping the consolidation of distressed properties by private equity companies and large, institutional actors.

Existing models and ongoing legislative efforts to inform future actions are also included in the opinion piece.

Monday, August 17, 2020 in The Guardian

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