Filed under: Announcement, Canada, Community Organizing, Disaster, Housing, US
On April 1st, while corporate retailers skip on payments and homeowners are allowed to wave mortgages, millions of renters will be expected to pay their rent. Even before the current pandemic and ensuing economic meltdown, cities and towns across the US have been experiencing rising rents and intensifying gentrification. This housing crisis has forced many workers out of their homes and into their vehicles and flooded the ranks of the houseless.
Now millions are without work, income, or savings; ordered to “shelter in place” by government decree as the US now leads the world in COVID-19 infections and hospitals begin to become overwhelmed. As corporations and industries are poised to receive literally trillions in bailouts, Trump is now pushing for us all to return to work; a move which threatens millions of lives.
After some safe & stealthy organizing, tenants at my building in Parkdale have delivered a letter to the landlord declaring a rent strike for April 1st
“We do not intend to repay the outstanding amount and demand that you cancel all rent owed for the period of social distancing” pic.twitter.com/fiEOfWExVC
— Shady Arms Dealer (@AlykhanPabani) March 27, 2020
As renters, we are faced with an uncertain future. We can attempt to stop the spread of the virus by staying home, hoping that our meager savings will hold out or simply rack up debt; we can become homeless and take our chances out on the streets or in our cars (if we have one); or when Trump decides, risk becoming infected – or infecting our loved ones, by attempting to find work.
But there is another option. As a class of people who rent, we can come together in mass numbers and fight back through the one power we do have: the power of refusal. This is both a refusal to pay our rents, to leave our homes, but more over, the refusal to leave each other behind.
If your landlord doesn't have to pay their bills, why do you have to pay your landlord? That's the question being asked by the #CancelRent movement that has found its way to Carbondale. pic.twitter.com/9MvMzsEOUH
— WTF? Carbondale (@wtfcarbondale) March 24, 2020
Across the US, Canada, and beyond – people are doing just that. On April 1st, people are going on rent strike. Some by choice, others because they have no other option. Organizers in different cities pushing the strike argue that as so many are on the verge of homelessness and infection, we are in a much safer place when we organize together and strike.
Here’s an FAQ rundown of just what’s going down on April 1st.
What’s Happening April 1st?
On April 1st there is a call for tenants to refuse to pay their rent – but moreover, it is to demand for rent cancellation. Already, some tenants have already answered the call and have stated publicly that they will not be paying rent. In many cities, autonomous groups have sprung up, organizing tenants and pushing publicly for a rent strike. In other cities, established groups of tenant organizations are calling for a strike. Lastly, many groups of tenants are coming together on their own, outside of any public organization.
As we speak, both corporate parties are pushing through a massive bailout of trillions of dollars to various corporations and industries, affected by the coronavirus pandemic. What do we get? A whopping one-time check of $1,200 which will arrive – at some point. Just like in 2008, working and poor people are the ones who will be forced to pay for this crisis while the rich get bailed out, with our money.
On April 1st, millions of people who are out of work and who could barely afford to pay their rents before the COVID-19 crisis, will now be faced with homelessness at a time when the United States is leading the world in coronavirus infections. While some city and State governments have passed eviction moratoriums, this simply means that tenants will be placed into further debt after the crisis is over. This is not a solution.
Already, across the US and the world, workers, prisoners, and community members are standing up to say that the exploited and excluded will not pay for the collapse of capitalism. By joining together, we can demand in a united voice:
Collective immunity from COVID-19 and its sweeping effects. Rent striking is a way to address the mounting debt and expenses that millions of working families will face as a result of reduced hours or unemployment during the COVID-19 outbreak. The rent strikers demand No Paying–No Debt to survive.
What Is a Rent Strike?
A rent strike is a collective refusal by tenants of a building, housing project, or dwelling to pay rent to their landlord. Often, groups of tenants have set demands that they want addressed, such as: unfair rents, unmade repairs, or an end to harassment by management.
The Harlem Rent Strike from 1963-1964 fought against poor maintenance and services.
Throughout history, rent strikes have been a tactic utilized by renters to combat slumlords, racism and attacks on civil rights, high rents, and also secure and defend housing for poor and working people in times of crisis, pandemic, and economic depression.
In recent years in the face of the growing housing crisis, rent strikes have grow in popularity in larger cities as a tactic utilized by renters to fight back against predatory landlords. Organizations such as the LA Tenants Union and Parkdale Organize have mobilized to back massive rent strikes which have resulted in key victories for tenants. Occupations of vacant housing, such as the recent occupation organized by Moms 4 Housing in Oakland, CA, have also resulted in victories.
Who Is Calling for the Strike?
There are a wide variety of autonomous groups, organizations, networks, and individuals who are pushing for the rent strike. This includes:
- A network of autonomous anti-capitalist groups and organizations across the country.
- The group Rent Strike 2020, which has been pushing petitions signed by tens of thousands of people.
- Groups of renters, such as the anarchist housing collective, Station 40, located in the Mission District of San Francisco, who have publicly declared that they will go on rent strike starting April 1st.
- Seasoned tenant organizations such as Parkdale Organize.
Hasn’t the Government Called Off Evictions?
In short, the government is some areas has placed a moratorium on evictions. This means simply that for a set amount of time, they agree to not evict anyone who can’t pay their rent, but they still expect you to pay it at a later date and in a timely manner. This means more debt and more payment of money you don’t have.
As 5 Demands, an online rent strike hub, wrote:
Current moratoriums on evictions and utility shut offs protect you from immediate threat of losing your home or having your utilities shut off, as long as those moratoriums are in place. Your landlord can’t file for eviction for non-payment during the moratorium and the utility companies can’t turn off your water or electricity. You can use the money you’ve kept on the immediate things you need, like medicine and food. The moratoriums alone don’t prevent you from owing back-payment once they lifted, though. That’s why we are pushing for a rent and debt cancellation, so millions of people are not facing insurmountable debt on the other end of this crisis. We also know that millions of people organized and united in refusing to pay will overwhelm court and eviction symptoms, which have a finite capacity.
To see a full map of areas with eviction moratoriums, go here.
Won’t the Government Give People Aid?
The current relief bill gives a one-time check of $1,200 to each person who qualifies. It is unknown when these checks will arrive. As many have pointed out, this small amount of money will most likely be directly handed over to landlords and debt collectors. This isn’t a bailout, but a slush fund for corporations and property holders.
As the group, Tenant and Neighborhood Councils (TANC) wrote:
The government has neglected to provide people with a way to live, even as the state offers businesses generous loans and bailouts to get through the crisis. If the government will not help us, then we must take matters into our own hands.
Absent any provision for lost wages and our collective health, this shelter-in-place order is just another instance of cruelty. Enough! If the government will not ensure our wellbeing, then we must organize to defend ourselves.
If we have no wages, then we cannot be expected to pay rent. We demand rent suspensions from every landlord effective immediately. The fact that anybody has to fear being evicted because of their inability to pay rent during a global health pandemic demonstrates the utter wickedness of this system. During this crisis, rent must be completely forgiven; there should be no expectation to pay it now, or “back pay” it in the future.
Beyond that, Trump has doubled down on his push to return people to work by mid-April. As the US already leads the world in Coronavirus infections, many have argued that such a return would lead to the deaths of potentially hundreds of thousands of people – which would of course result in a tanked economy regardless.
DROPPED TODAY IN FLATBUSH 💥 VIA @peacebewithjune with note — It was painted and dropped while keeping each other safe and adhering to quarantine || ✊🏽🌱 #strike #everything #decolonizethisplace #nyc #brooklyn #coronavirus #covid_19 #covid #covid19 pic.twitter.com/gBuHkjuc09
— DecolonizeThisPlace (@decolonize_this) March 22, 2020
But Trump knows that with the economy on the rocks, his chances for re-election are low – so he’s banking on restarting the economy by forcing people to return to work. And what a better way to jump-start GDP, than with a desperate workforce terrified of eviction – even if it means they will be potentially infected with the coronavirus.
In short, we are being forced to pay for this crisis with more than just our money: but our very lives.
Won’t a Rent Strike Hurt Landlords?
Simply put, for middle-class landlords who rent out extra property, there are simply more protections from foreclosure than there are for renters. Homeowners across the US are getting federal mortgage relief and HUD has also called for a halt on foreclosures. According to NPR, homeowners can also have their “mortgage payments reduced or suspended for up to 12 months.” In cities like New York, there is currently a moratorium on mortgages for 90 days, while in California, those paying a mortgage will be given a grace period.
Corporations like Subway, the Cheesecake Factory, and Adidas have already declared that they won’t pay rent in April. There's mortgage relief for the middle class, but none for renters. They want the poorest to foot the bill.
— CrimethInc. (@crimethinc) March 27, 2020
It should also be noted that many corporate retail stores are also not able to pay rent and are currently working with landlords to pay reduced or restructured rent – or in some cases even given grace periods.
For renters, these protections do not exist – our only way forward is through collective action. As Parkdale Organize wrote:
Landlords’ resources will allow them to withstand the COVID-19 pandemic better than most, while tenants are more and more concerned with our daily survival. The government has already announced financial support and mortgage suspensions for businesses and landlords. By keeping our rent we will have more money for groceries, medicine, disinfectant supplies, and other basic necessities. Our landlords will be fine without our rent. We may not be.
How Can I Plug Into the Rent Strike?
The best way to is link up with a group that already exists. If one doesn’t in your area, contact the one closest to you. Check out the next section for how to organize.
You can also call this hotline and talk to organizers who will help you find local initiatives and resources for your strike:
Atlanta Survival Program
Rent Strike ATX | 512-200-7750
Rent Strike Carbondale
Can’t Pay Won’t Pay DURM
Flagstaff Rent Strike
Keep Your Rent Hamilton
Rent Strike IE
Rent Strike Kingston
Lansing Solidarity and Defense
Rent Strike London
LA Tenants Union
Madison Rent Strike 2020
Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union
Rent Strike Twin Cities | (763) 294-5592
Greve des Loyers
NEW YORK CITY
COVID-19 Rent Strike
Tidewater Workers Union
Mutual Aid Katarokwi COVID-19 | (613) 665-2959
COVID-19 Rent Strike Ottawa | +1 (353) 883-5608
Palm Beach County Tenants Union
PDX Rent Strike
Drop Rent Santa Cruz | (831) 471-7842
STL Rent Strike
Rent Strike Tulsa | (918) 933-7241
Tucson Rent Strike
Rent Strike Vancouver
Where Can I Get Organizing Resources?
- Rent Strike 2020: A Resource List
- COVID-19 Tenant Organizing Tool Kit
- 5 Demands Organizing Tool Kit
- How To Deal with Landlords During Rent Strike
- Rebel Steps Podcast on Rent Strikes
- Sample Letters to Landlords and Neighbors
— Midwest People's History (@MPHProject) March 21, 2020
How Can I Support the Rent Strike?
- Get connected to a local group.
- If you can’t find one, organize where you are.
- Mobilize to provide mutual aid to those who are on strike. Check out our list of mutual aid groups across the US here.