Tell us about your experiences with Marketplace. Enter To Win
COVID-19

Rent strike activists seek relief during COVID-19 pandemic

Jasmine Garsd May 1, 2020
HTML EMBED:
COPY
A demonstrator in Chicago on Thursday calls for rent and mortgage payments to be suspended to help those who have lost their income due to the coronavirus. Scott Olson/Getty Images
COVID-19

Rent strike activists seek relief during COVID-19 pandemic

Jasmine Garsd May 1, 2020
A demonstrator in Chicago on Thursday calls for rent and mortgage payments to be suspended to help those who have lost their income due to the coronavirus. Scott Olson/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

For the last two months, Mark Osgood from Chicago said he has not been able to pay rent. He’s 32, an Uber driver, and says work has dried up due to the virus. He said neither his stimulus nor his unemployment checks have come in yet.

“I mean, I live paycheck to paycheck as it is,” he said. “And if there is no income coming in, there’s no bill money going out.”

Today is May 1, rent is due, and he said he won’t be paying. Neither will many others — there are rent strikes across the country today, as a response to job losses and economic damage from the pandemic. Worker rights activists across the country are also calling for a day of action to bring attention to workplace issues around COVID-19.

Illinois, like New York, has frozen evictions, but Osgood pays over $1,300 a month and said he won’t be able to pay the rent backlog once the moratorium is lifted.

Some organizers of the rent strikes nationwide are asking those who can still afford rent to join people like Osgood and withhold payment. Advocates want rents to be canceled until people can return to work safely. Nicole Deane of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment said that without additional protection once eviction moratoriums are lifted, “there would be mass evictions in California, after the pandemic, or tenants would potentially be tens of thousands of dollars in debt.”

The last time there was an organized rent strike at this level was in Harlem in the 1960s. Georgetown University assistant professor Rosemary Ndubuizu said these were focused on race and the dire living conditions for people of color.

“They were getting increasingly frustrated because the housing code that New York had was not getting enforced, particularly for black families,” she said, adding that these protests, which were organized primarily by African American women, were initially successful and spread to places like Washington, D.C.

Landlords today are warning that a rent strike could ripple through the economy. Doug Bibby, the president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, said he understands renters’ situation but “that big, bad landlord has a mortgage and has a payroll. And when you stop paying, they’re gonna start cutting people who look just like the people calling the rent strike.”

Instead, he said the federal government needs to help renters directly, beyond a one-time stimulus check. Otherwise, he said the housing crisis will get worse.

For many, it already has. Terra Thomas, a freelance florist in Oakland, California, said she’s had to make a decision whether to pay the monthly $900 for her rent-controlled apartment or keep paying for food and health care. 

“I grew up in the Bay Area. This is my home. And if I lose this apartment, I don’t make enough to afford a place at market rate. And that, is … yeah it’s really scary,” she said.

She’s chosen to pay for food and health care and to strike on rent.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

How long will it be until the economy is back to normal?

It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.

How are those COVID relief payments affecting consumers?

Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.

Read More

Collapse

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.