What should renters do as payments pile up? Don’t move, fight back!
Join us next Thursday, October 1st for our Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay Organizing Call!
At the beginning of the month, Trump and the CDC issued a sweeping eviction moratorium. This is no doubt a victory of the grassroots organizing that put pressure on the establishment to act!
But while the order can prevent many people from being evicted for nonpayment, it’s nowhere near enough. The stipulations to qualify are vague and conditional. You must fill out this CDC form to be protected, and many renters who don’t know their rights under the new ban will slip through the cracks, predominantly in communities of color.
Landlords will no doubt do anything in their power to skirt the law as they have done throughout the pandemic. The order imposes fines on landlords who evict on the basis of COVID-related nonpayment, but does nothing to combat the majority of evictions that are informal.
Most outrageous of all, this measure does nothing to address the immediate crisis of rental debt.
In 2020, the use of credit cards to pay rent has increased by 43%. One-in-ten struggling renters has withdrawn money from a retirement account to pay the bills. 36% have drawn money from their personal savings. One-in-four renters have accumulated new debt either via credit cards, payday loans, or borrowing from family or friends.
Mountains of money owed – not only to landlords, but to credit card companies, payday lenders, relatives, and friends – are piling up on renters’ backs. Families are making huge sacrifices by foregoing food, utilities, and even medication to pay the rent. The fact that anyone is being forced to decide whether to put food on the table or to keep a roof over their heads is unacceptable.
These crippling debts that could soon spill over into an avalanche of evictions. Once the moratorium expires, renters are going to owe money in big lump sums that will be insurmountable for most. Millions across the country could find themselves facing eviction in the dead of winter.
This is not an individual problem as our landlords may want us to believe. It is a collective issue facing millions of Americans. And with Black and Latino renters most severely impacted, it is a crucial battlefield in the fight for racial justice.
We can’t afford to survive on debt! We must continue building a movement nationwide to #CancelRent, and we have to join forces with our fellow tenants to demand that our landlords forgive all back rent. Renters across the country are proving that when we organize, we can win the relief we deserve. Join us on October 1st to discuss how we can fight back!
Illinois needs your help to protect access to water, electricity & gas during this pandemic! Earlier, this summer, No Ameren Shutoffs conducted a call-in campaign to the Illinois Commerce Commission demanding no utility shutoffs for working people during the COVID-19 crisis. This campaign was victorious, and resulted in an extension of the shutoff moratorium from August until September 1st!
But now, the moratorium is set to expire in a week. Renters are in more danger than ever. Peoples’ ability to pay housing costs has steadily declined month-to-month since the pandemic began. The latest projections estimate between 30 and 40 million households could face eviction this fall – and this is an underestimate. The majority of evictions are informal, illegal evictions where landlords use tactics like threats, harassment, and commonly utility shutoffs to force out anyone who falls behind on their rent.
Water utilities like Illinois American Water and Decatur’s Water Department have stated their internet to resume shutoffs come September. This is exactly the opposite of what we need during a pandemic when hand-washing is a dire public health necessity. Meanwhile, utility giant Ameren Corp rakes in over $6 billion in revenue per year, and could more than afford to give relief to renters struggling to stay housed.
If we don’t push to extend the shutoff ban, Illinois could follow the “leadership” of Indiana & Missouri in allowing people to be forced out of their homes by cutting off crucial services. Thousands could be pushed out of their housing, without their removals being formally recorded as evictions. We need to mobilize to protect renters!
Here’s what you can do:
Call the Illinois Commerce Commission and demand an extension of the shutoff ban! They can be reached at 1-800-524-0795 between 8 am and 5 pm. Without pressure from below, our government will put the profits of the utility companies before public health. Help us step up the fight to keep renters in their homes!
Over 50 people attended Friday’s Rent Strike 2020 organizing call, representing over 20 cities in every region of the country! Renters shared their organizing experience, highlighted recent actions to block evictions where the courts have already re-opened, and discussed how to fight back against the looming “tsunami” of evictions working class people face come fall.
Did you miss the call? Stay tuned for the next one in early September. One thing you can do right now to support this movement is pitch in $15 to make sure we’re as prepared as possible as September 1st approaches.
While politicians are bickering about extending the stimulus, billionaires are getting richer. During the pandemic billionaires increased their wealth by an estimated $685 billion. Meanwhile, more renters than ever before are taking on additional debt to make ends meet. The Aspen Institute reports that 30% of renters report borrowing cash or getting a loan to pay rent. Rental payments using a credit card have increased 43% since last year!
We need to get organized! An estimated 30-40 million people in America are at risk of being evicted, the majority of whom are immigrants, LGBTQ, or people of color.
Along with organizing to stop evictions, we can get organized to stop rent increases, cancel the rental debt, and deal with slumlords. We know there was already a severe housing crisis before COVID hit. Almost half of all renters were already “cost-burdened,” meaning they paid more than a third of their income towards rent, and a quarter of renters already paid more than 50% of their income. When we join forces and build a united movement, we can fight back to win the relief renters need and deserve, during this pandemic and beyond!
Rent Strike 2020 stands in solidarity with #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd! The movement has spread like wildfire nationally and internationally, as youth and working people stand up in outrage against the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the countless other black and brown people murdered in cold blood by the police!
It is no coincidence that these historic demonstrations have flared up now.
While the overall unemployment rate fell last month, Black unemployment rose: more than 1 in 6 Black workers are currently out of a job.
58% of Black households rent vs 28% of white households.
25% of Black and Latino renters reported nonpayment or deferment of rent during the pandemic, vs 14% of white renters.
In May, 44% of Black tenants said they have little or no confidence they would be able to meet their next rent payment.
Black women are evicted at higher rates than any other demographic.
This is unacceptable, and points to the need to fight the systemic racism at the heart of our dysfunctional, for-profit housing system.
The threat of eviction is yet another way the state terrorizes communities of color. Riot gear for one police officer could buy personal protective equipment for 31 healthcare workers. We join the call to #DefundthePolice to redirect money away from bloated police budgets, instead funding high-quality, publicly-owned social housing, education, and healthcare.
To defend our communities against eviction, we must get organized. No one should face mounting rental debt while the COVID crisis deepens and unemployment rises. We can’t afford a racist system that puts profitability over the lives of working people.
Earlier this year when the economic crisis and pandemic hit, word of a Rent Strike rippled across the country. Tenants in Wisconsin were inspired, and 700 joined the Facebook group Wisconsin Rent Strike 2020 to encourage and help one another get organized. Renters shared resources in the group, and held virtual meetings where tenants across the state organizing under their landlords could come together and strategize.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin was one of the key US cities that saw evictions skyrocket as soon as state and federal bans expired. Now with the temporary CDC eviction moratorium in place, it’s more important than ever that we start organizing in our buildings and gain experience fighting collectively so we are prepared to resist a potential flood of evictions down the line. Amara, a member of the newly founded Trike Tenants Council in Milwaukee, reports on how her building formed their council, won building repairs, and fought off the landlord’s attacks!
Having rented from a slumlord for a few years now in Milwaukee, I was excited to jump in on the Wisconsin Rent Strike 2020 meetings and find out how to fight back. On one of these calls, a tenant shared that through the City of Milwaukee website you can look up information about your building, including current/previous owners, purchase dates, and code violations. After a lot of digging, a fellow tenant and I discovered who our landlord actually is – for the first time after 4 years renting from him! We found several unaddressed communal code violations filed in September 2019, which legally allows for all 24 of our building’s units to apply for rent withholding through the city until the repairs are adequately addressed.
Why was knowing this information useful? Since moving in, tenants have bemoaned moving into filthy units and having maintenance repairs ignored and neglected. If our landlord’s maintenance department does ever make it for a unit’s repair, slipshod jobs cause tenants to regret having contacted them in the first place. Constant runarounds of excuses for why repairs cannot be made, including outright lying about what’s legally required, are the norm. Some tenants have even resorted to just repairing their units themselves out of their own pockets. Leaks, dry rot, windows without screens, windows that don’t open, soggy walls, and mold are just a few of the hazardous conditions we’ve been living with, while the landlord lines his pockets with money that he refuses to put back in maintaining the building.
After years of frustration, the right conditions, and a group to organize with, I went to work writing and distributing a letter around my building raising the demand for a building-wide rent strike. Understanding that not everybody would be ready to take this step, I also stressed the need for us to come together to get our maintenance issues addressed. Responses came in expressing excitement about the prospect of a rent strike, but it was clear that the key issues tenants were willing to fight for were building conditions.
Around this same time, we discovered another group had come together to organize renters in Milwaukee called the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union (MATU). After contacting them about what was going on with our building, we held a virtual meeting with one of their organizers about how our building can proceed.
We decided to apply for the rent withholding program through the City of Milwaukee’s Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS). Though a couple of our building’s organizers were fearful to apply, three units, including my own, proceeded and were approved starting July 1, 2020. This meant the city would hold our rent until our landlord adequately addressed our communal code violations.
We also set up a private Facebook group for our building’s tenants, where a majority of units joined. Here, we posted updates about our building’s repairs, planned meetings, and discussed the issues in our units and the building. We also made an effort to get to know our neighbors more by introducing ourselves in the hallways, discussing our organizing, and asking questions about their experience living under the landlord. Printed materials were distributed under the tenants’ doors for those who don’t use social media.
Our landlord and his family’s property management agency responded with a vengeance. For the first two months of rent withholding, they tried to go into my bank account to double dip rental payments. They also contacted a fellow organizer and berated him for exercising his legal rights to organize the building and withhold his rent. Gaslighting us was continuous, repeatedly claiming to both us and the DNS that we never contacted their agency about repairs despite documentation to the contrary, and the harassment and slander were ever-escalating. They sent one of our organizers a letter stating that he owes two months back rent for the two months he had already paid the DNS.
In an attempt to punish all tenants in retaliation for our organizing, they even raised rent on nearly the entire building with rent increases ranging from $20 to $50 more per month on an already high average rent of $764/month for a dilapidated building. This attempt at divide-and-conquer backfired, and made tenants angry at the landlord instead of at the tenant organizers. Our landlord’s retaliation peaked at attempting to evict the three units in the rent withholding program.
The DNS rescinded both the rent increases and the eviction attempts. But this didn’t happen by itself! We had to put in work researching the laws and our rights, holding the DNS’ feet to the fire and, most importantly, doing it collectively! Unfortunately, the DNS didn’t feel like a place that tenants could turn to in dealing with a bad landlord. Twice they attempted to pass our landlord’s inspection despite repairs not being made. Tenants diligently recorded videos of code violations and emailed them to the DNS. If we hadn’t applied pressure ourselves, we would not have been able to win the repairs. This goes to show we can’t rely on state agencies to defend our rights – the only way we can guarantee tenants’ voices are heard is through determined organizing!
Despite how difficult it was dealing with the DNS, our landlord, and his family agency, we saw the results of our organizing! We forced our landlord to repair the leaking basement, replace a busted railing, patch up crumbling walls, update windows, and rescind our rent increases and attempted evictions!
With this hard-fought victory under our belts, we voted to officially call ourselves Trike Tenants Council. Since our landlord owns hundreds of units across several other buildings, we plan to expand our council to include other tenants in other buildings who may be experiencing similar maintenance issues or eviction attempts.
We continue to work in our building through a core group of organizers to grow our council to a majority and to get every tenant’s repair demands met. While the CDC ban protects many of us against eviction for the time being, we know that by building our organization we are creating a tool we can later use to fight evictions. We also continue to work with Wisconsin Rent Strike 2020, alongside MATU, and in solidarity with renters in Milwaukee and across the country!