What if They Held a Pandemic (And A Rent Strike Broke Out Instead?) 

Prepare for a May Day like no other.

Page 3 of 4

Not surprisingly, the California Apartment Association submitted a letter calling Ting's bill one-sided, unreasonable, and unconstitutional. "AB 828 places significant financial hardship on rental housing owners and it provides no assistance to help them bear those burdens," the association wrote in a letter to Ting. "In addition to mortgage payments, property owners must pay property taxes and insurance premiums, not to mention the significant costs to manage and maintain their properties and paying employees. ... AB828 offers nothing to help with those payments."

The apartment association has sponsored its own bill, SB 1410 by Senator Lena Gonzalez (D, Long Beach), which would provide state funds to cover up to 80 percent of the rent for three months for a tenant who can't pay because of the COVID-19 crisis. To qualify, a property owner would have to agree not to increase rent, charge late fees, or pursue the remaining rent owed for those three months.

Tenant advocates are divided in their opinions about the bill. Some welcome any help for tenants struggling to pay rent, but others want property owners to bear these costs — regardless of whether they are landlords or banks. "If the government pays the rent, then who's going to pay the government?" Richmond tenant activist Ricky Zepeda asked. "The people still end up paying." And Amy Schur, statewide organizer for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said, "We should save our taxpayer money for health care and schools." Since there won't be enough assistance to go around, she said, "the better solution is to ask the big Wall Street banks to eat the cost, by forgiving the payments for certain months entirely. Small landlords should receive assistance. Renters and homeowners should receive forgiveness."

#CancelRent, #CancelMortgages

A national coalition of housing rights, social-justice, and labor organizations is calling for the cancellation of rents and mortgages owed for the period of the COVID-19 crisis, adopting the hashtags #CancelRent and #CancelMortgages. More than 80 organizations in California are calling on Governor Newsom to issue an executive order doing that.

In Congress, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D, Minneapolis) has introduced "The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act," co-sponsored by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pramila Jayapal, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and others. It would require the forgiveness of rent and mortgage payments from May 1 until 30 days after the end of the federal state of emergency. It also would bar the accumulation of fines as well as any measures that might affect a person's credit rating. And it calls for a landlord and lender relief fund, which would reimburse property owners for unpaid rent so long as they meet certain fair-housing and other standards for the next five years.

On the day Omar introduced her bill, the polling organization Data for Progress released results of a survey that found that 55 percent of all voters — including 42 percent of Republicans -- support a policy that would suspend mortgage payments, cancel rent payments, and not require renters to pay rent that accumulated during the pandemic. In California, the numbers are even higher. According to polling data in an April 27 report from The Justice Collaborative Institute and Data for Progress, 74 percent of likely California voters, including 65 percent of Republicans, "would support a 'suspend and forgive' rent program, under which the state, not a renter, would compensate landlords for lost rental income for as long as there remains a state of emergency in California." Additionally, 75 percent of likely California voters, including 69 percent of Republicans, "would support a 'suspend and forgive' mortgage program, under which the state, not a homeowner, would compensate a mortgage provider for missed payments" for the duration of the emergency.

Housing rights and labor organizations in the state are preparing for a statewide rent strike beginning on May Day. The rent strike is a strategy to put force behind a petition asking Gov. Newsom to sign an executive order cancelling rents and mortgages during the state of emergency. "Moratoriums are a half-measure that just kicks the can down the road, saddling people with new debt," said the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment in its press release announcing the rent strike.

Not surprisingly, landlord advocates view the proposal as opportunistic.

"Encouraging all tenants — including those with the ability to pay — to withhold rent is malicious," the East Bay Rental Housing Association said in a statement. "Timely rent collection is essential to paying operating costs, including maintenance, insurance, utilities, property taxes, and mortgages [and] to pay the salaries of managers, custodians, maintenance workers, and contractors such as electricians, plumbers and gardeners." In addition, thousands of "mom and pop" property owners "work in professions outside of rental services [and] are subject to the same income loss as tenants." Withholding rent "would only compound their economic pain."


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