After months of renters and working-class homeowners taking to the streets, blocking the courts, forming eviction protection networks and demanding rent & mortgage cancellation, yesterday the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a necessary first step in creating housing stability via a national moratorium on pandemic evictions. The order directs in no uncertain terms, “to temporarily halt residential evictions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19” through December 31, 2020.
For the 34 States without existing eviction moratoriums this could mean real relief for tenants and give millions of renters more breathing room for the rest of the year but let’s be clear it also does the bare minimum to take care of rent insecure people across the country and will leave out big swathes of the most vulnerable in our country including undocumented people and the formerly incarcerated, who are the most targeted by illegal evictions. Absent serious further government intervention, as soon as this moratorium expires landlords will file millions of eviction orders in court in the new year.
From here Congress has to move as soon as possible to pass Rep. Omar’s legislation the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act which would shift the burden off of renters and homeowners during the duration of the pandemic by pausing rent and mortgage payments during this crisis. It also includes erasing rent debt incurred during the pandemic and prohibits fines which will mean the difference between widespread displacement and stabilizing people in their homes. Not kicking people out of their homes is just a small piece of the puzzle.
The fact that the CDC agency order has been invoked on public health grounds affirms for the renters, workers, families, and frontline communities that shape the housing movement that what we have been saying for decades is true: housing is undeniably a matter of public health, it makes all the difference in the very livelihood of people, and it must be decommodified.
The pandemic has shown a spotlight on the long existing housing crisis in the United States and elevated a fundamental truth- the market is not neutral. It is stacked against working people and folks of color. It is set up to extract as much profit from renters as possible. We need a complete overhaul in the housing sector to orient it to the fact that housing is a human right and everyone is worthy of safe, affordable, and stable housing.
There are some things this order lays out clearly like how it acts as a stopgap for states that don’t have moratoriums yet and does not change existing moratoriums (especially if their protections are more robust).
There is still a lot to understand about this agency order though: will it actually be enforceable? How will it be enforced? If landlords are able to levy fees due to non-payment, as the order states, what will regulate landlords from opening the floodgates and leaving renters under mountains of debt? In the coming days it will be on the housing justice movement to act quickly to define and test the limits of this moratorium, as we advocate for the real changes we need in the form of rent and mortgage cancellation.
We know this is a confusing and uncertain time for renters and working class homeowners alike. This agency order represents a real opportunity to exercise our collective power and take coordinated action to ensure that we all step out the other side of this pandemic healthy, whole, and secure. Here are a few things that you can do to meet this moment:
◘ Declare to your landlords that you are unable to pay rent for the foreseeable future in line with the Federal order. Spread the word and send this statement to your friends who are housing insecure and looking for answers
◘ The moratorium is a temporary solution and we can’t rest until we get the permanent, long term changes needed to truly transform the housing system. The critical work that tenant and community organizations are doing right now to set up eviction defense networks, pass rent and mortgage cancellation, and secure community controlled land and housing are important, now more than ever.
◘ If you aren’t part of an organization, find a tenant union or housing justice organization in your city. Join them to fight for your right to stable housing and invite your friends and neighbors to join renters rising across the country. Want to connect with folks across the country doing this work? Register for the Rooted & Ready: Eviction Defense for the Renter Nation training series: https://homesforall.me/rooted
◘ Keep our eyes on the prize: don’t let this cynical move by an administration headed up by an actual slumlord who is responsible for whipping up white supremacist terror, split our forces by handing out short term concessions in return for votes. We know that Trump is trying to win an election, and the fight doesn’t stop here. Any concessions his administration makes between now and November will only come if we keep up the pressure. We can’t ever forget the damage that the Trump administration has wreaked on Black, brown, indigenous, and working class communities. We have to continue to be in deep solidarity with abolitionist and Black liberation movements demanding the deep systemic changes that would create the healthy, safe, thriving communities we all deserve. We must continue to build power, stand together with our loved ones, our neighbors and demand more than short term solutions that put politics or profit over people.