by David Agosto-Ginsburg
The coronavirus pandemic has been grossly mishandled in capitalist countries throughout the world, and as a consequence, it has had devastating effects on the lives of millions of poor and working people. In the United States, millions of people who were laid off or furloughed in the early months of the pandemic remain unemployed, and costs for essential products and services like food have risen. Tens of millions of Americans have lost whatever degree of economic security they had before the pandemic. One consequence of this is that there are millions of people who are behind on rent and in danger of getting evicted once the federal eviction moratorium (or temporary ban on evictions) is lifted, which is currently set to happen on March 31st.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced a federal eviction moratorium last September, but tenants will be responsible for paying all their back rent when it ends, and between 30 and 40 million Americans are in serious danger of being evicted. In order to be protected by the moratorium, you have to: Expect to have income less than $99,000 in 2020, or have received a stimulus check, or not have been required to report income to the IRS in 2019; Be unable to pay full rent due to an income loss or “extraordinary” medical bills; Have used best efforts to obtain governmental rent assistance; Be likely to become homeless or forced to “live in close quarters” in another residence if evicted; Promise to “make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit.” If you meet these criteria then you need to complete a form and give it to your landlord. Foreclosures are not protected under the moratorium. Instead of protecting everyone and having a simple process for getting eviction protection, as it is now the moratorium is not doing enough for renters.
Tens of thousands of evictions have already occurred in many states in recent months. The Eviction Lab has determined that around 80,000 evictions occurred in just 27 cities between September and November 2020. Sometimes this happened because residents didn’t complete the complicated forms needed to gain protection from evictions. In other cases, landlords have begun state court eviction proceedings, which are allowed in many states as long as the actual eviction does not happen until after eviction moratoriums are lifted. In some areas of the country, landlords have been allowed to not just go to court but to actually evict their tenants, because some courts are flagrantly disobeying the CDC’s moratorium. In North Carolina, for example, the state’s Administrative Office of Courts sent a letter to the court clerks saying that they should still process evictions as they normally would, in direct violation of the CDC moratorium. Even in states that have issued strict bans on evictions, landlords still find ways to evict tenants, such as neglecting to renew their leases when they run out or claiming that they have violated some code in order to exploit legal loopholes that allow them to evict.
The situation with evictions is already a crisis, but it will become catastrophic as soon as the federal eviction moratorium is lifted. Renters will have to pay all their back rent or be evicted. This will undoubtedly result in millions of people becoming homeless or forced to move in with other family members or with friends if possible, increasing overcrowding which could also increase the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evictions are a brutal process that wrench people away from their homes, forcing them to relocate to substandard housing, if they’re lucky, or exposing them to the dangers of homelessness. The majority of people evicted have no legal representation in eviction court, and their cases are typically only heard for a few minutes each. If a tenant does not leave within a few days of being given the writ of restitution for their eviction, the police will come and force them out of their home, using violence or the threat of it to ensure compliance.
The $1,200 stimulus money given to many Americans in March was not enough, just a band-aid at best. Congress then gave out $600, again an inadequate amount, and the $2,000 the Democrats promised when campaigning has been cut down to $1,400. This will barely make a dent in easing the financial burdens of renters who often owe thousands of dollars in back rent, let alone what they need for their other financial necessities. In order to protect millions of Americans from being evicted, we must demand far more from the federal government. We must demand monthly stimulus payments of at least $3,000 for the working class and poor, closing the loopholes that have left students, immigrants, and others out of the previous relief bills. Rent from March 2020 to the present must be retroactively canceled. We must fight for rent control to be implemented across the country. We must also fight for $20/hour minimum wage and demand that federal and local governments create millions of units of free municipally-owned public housing, by building new housing and by taking existing unoccupied properties into public ownership through eminent domain.
In order to ensure housing justice in the long-term, we need a mass left workers’ party that can successfully organize resistance. This workers’ party must be completely independent of the Democratic and Republican parties, which are dominated by corporate interests and will fail to pass major reforms. Direct action to resist evictions through tactics like rent strikes and occupations need to be used in mass movements against evictions. We should only use these tactics when there are enough people willing to participate in them to have a chance of succeeding. If only a handful of tenants go on strike by not paying their rent, then the landlord will simply use cops to evict those tenants. Crucially, we must organize within both workplace unions and tenant unions to build coalitions that are willing to go on strike to force demands to be met.
In order to end the chronic problems with housing, including exploitation of tenants by landlords, we need to go beyond capitalism and fight to build a socialist world in which housing is a human right, not a market to exploit and profit off of. In the U.S, there are 6 empty homes for every homeless person; this shows there isn’t a problem of not having enough resources, it’s a problem of distribution of resources. We need to organize to have the properties of the largest landlords taken into public ownership. Socialism includes creating and maintaining improved housing for all and only a socialist society can end housing insecurity and exploitation.
Image Credit: Gillfoto via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0