The CDC ban came too late in Houston, TX – between the $600 unemployment ending and the federal order halting COVID-related evictions until December, an unprecedented number of renters had sheriff’s deputies at their door to evict. This has included families, elderly people, and children thrown out of their homes the day before school started. The new nationwide ban may delay many of the 677 eviction cases on the Harris County docket this week, but it will only postpone what is already a life-or-death crisis for renters in Houston and in cities across the country.
In August, activists held a demonstration outside a county courthouse to protest the onslaught of evictions sentencing struggling renters to homelessness in the midst of a surging pandemic. Energized by the #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd movement and angered at the ways this housing crisis will impact communities of color, activists came together to demand SAFE – Stop All F*cking Evictions!
Spike from Houston reports below on the action, and draws out crucial lessons for continuing the struggle. Register for Friday’s Rent Strike Organizing Call to hear organizers from Houston and across the US talk more about building the movement!
Houston has no moratorium on evictions– nearly 600 evictions were filed in a single week in August. This was more than Austin, Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Richmond, and St Louis combined. Mayor Sylvester Turner insists that he will not enact a rent moratorium locally, going against his own Housing Task Force and the Houston Apartments Association. Evictions in Houston and throughout Harris County are ongoing.
Tragically, 600 evictions per week is lower than many expected. We anticipated a massive spike in evictions for months going all the way back to April: a month after the economic shutdown had ended. There are many possible reasons for this, including courts limiting the number of eviction cases heard per day for social-distancing purposes, individual landlord-tenant back rent negotiating, and rent-cash infusion by the city government. Although, we can be certain that informal evictions are occurring: informal evictions – where landlords evict illegally through threats, shutoffs, and lockouts, or where tenants self-evict out of fear of retribution – constitute the majority of evictions in normal times, and especially during COVID-19.
Judges, who have the power to refuse to hear eviction cases during the pandemic, have declined to do so. There have been coordinated efforts to compel these judges to deny eviction hearings with mixed results. Judges have been phone zapped, pressured by non-governmental organizations, and the housing task force. All to no avail – eviction cases were being heard, often while the judges themselves hid their faces from Zoom call court sessions.
On Friday, August 21, we participated in a courthouse blockade and demonstration outside the 6000 Chimney Rock courthouse. Rent Strike 2020, Houston Tenants Union, Socialist Alternative, DSA, and several other groups tabled, held signs, and marched around the courthouse. The main demand of the protestors was referred to by the acronym SAFE – Stop All F*cking Evictions! We held signs, picketed, and chanted loudly to get our message out and disrupt evictions-as-usual at the courthouse. Some individuals attempted to put themselves between landlords and the building. Despite this, the court proceeded with several evictions – although 9 of the 12 cases were postponed. Mutual Aid Houston argues that our demonstration played a role in this.
It is clear that we need to keep building momentum. A similar protest in New Orleans shut down the court by drawing hundreds out to the demonstrations. To stop the wave of evictions – and crucially, to prepare for the CDC ban’s expiration in December – we will have to keep building militant, energetic actions. This will be inseparable from our organizing with tenants in buildings and under landlords.
This action was only possible because of cooperation and coalition building between socialists, housing groups, and tenant unions. Houston Socialist Alternative, Houston Tenants Union, and many others worked together to make this demonstration happen. We will need to continue joining forces for these actions as the crisis rages on. Especially when we are up against right wing anti-renter leaders, vicious landlords, and government “protections” that allow too many renters to fall through the cracks, we need to form united fronts in our cities to put up the strongest possible fight for renters!
We also must put forward concrete political goals. Here in Houston we want to Stop All F*cking Evictions! This is absolutely critical and our central task in this moment. But to stop all evictions, in a country that evicts nearly 3 million every year to fuel the profits of landlords and big business, it will take much more than stopping evictions in the courts. During COVID, and also with the climate crisis and the long-term economic recession, we need to tackle the housing crisis from all angles.
This would mean pushing for massive investment by the city in public housing, and taxing corporations like Exxon Mobil to pay for it. We need to build high-quality social housing to ensure housing as a human right to all! We know these types of measures are possible: earlier this year in Seattle, the Tax Amazon campaign won a tax on the most profitable corporations in the city in order to funding green jobs and affordable housing. If we take inspiration from this victory and equip ourselves with bold, popular polities, we can gain unstoppable momentum by drawing out working people of all backgrounds to get involved in this movement!
We hope this demonstration helps build this type of momentum for a larger movement to take shape in Houston. In many ways, Houston is the ‘guinea pig’ in a grand experiment by the capitalist class, to find out, ‘How many evictions are too many, how many lives can be ruined before we are faced with mass resistance?’ For us, the question is, “How do we show the landlords, big real estate, big business and the 1% that we, workers and renters, are the source of their profits, and we have the ultimate say?” A movement of workers and renters can reclaim our homes, cancel rental debt, stop evictions in their tracks, and force a total overhaul of our housing system away from profit and toward human need. We have the determination, all we renters need is to go out and organize!
Organize with us! Email RentStrikeHouston@gmail.com
No Ameren Shutoffs, a volunteer-led grassroots campaign, won our second consecutive win against Ameren Illinois, a multi-billion dollar corporation!
Your help made the second extension of the utility shut-off moratorium possible, but the fight is not over yet!
Ameren Illinois already demonstrated their disregard for renters’ well-being by repeatedly threatening our access to essential utility services during the pandemic. But now they plan to even more strongly assert their commitment to profit over lives by cutting off struggling households’ access to water and electricity in the midst of COVID-19 and an economic crisis. Ameren Illinois’ next round of shutoff notices have disconnect dates of September 11th.
As the shut-off date approaches, Governor JB Pritzker has the power to stop this from happening via executive order. We need your help to make this happen!
We need people to tell Governor Pritzker to extend the moratorium. Let’s show him that working people and renters are watching, and he can’t stand by while we are put at risk! Call on Governor JB Pritzker to use an executive order to extend the utility shutoffs moratorium & reinstate previously disconnected services by clicking the twitter link below, or calling his office at 217-782-0244.
We’ve already shown what we can win when we apply pressure to our representatives. We need to keep up the momentum to protect ourselves and our neighbors!
Trump and the CDC passed a dramatic, last-second measure to halt evictions until December – what comes next for our movement?
The temporary ban on evictions is too late, and far too little. Thousands have already been forced from their homes after losing income during this pandemic. The number of renters currently at risk of eviction – between thirty and forty million – has not changed. They’ve simply been put on hold until December. As soon as the ban expires, struggling renters will be on the hook for rental debt potentially dating back to March. Families desperate to avoid eviction have been using credit cards and payday loans to make the rent; these financial burdens will last well beyond 2020.
Trump is the last person we can rely on to protect renters. His million-dollar real estate empire, notorious for discrimination against Black renters in the 1970’s, has lined his and his family’s pockets from decades of extracting profit from working people. Only weeks ago, his administration went on the offensive against the Fair Housing Act of 1968 that protects renters against discrimination.
And yet, the Senate and most Democratic governors have failed to provide even the bare minimum that Trump and the CDC have authorized. Our ruling class is stuck between a rock and hard place, with renters crying out for help on one side, and corporate politicians’ ties to landlords and real estate on the other. Neither Democrats or Republicans are up to task.
If the CDC order tells us anything, it’s that we need to step up the fight for real relief! The deepest housing crisis since the Great Depression will take more than a band-aid: we need bold new policies that can only be won through a mass movement. Now more than ever we need to cancel rent, mortgage, and utility payments, and we need to tax the rich and big business to pay for it! Without taking this step, not only will millions of renters lose their homes and be trapped by mountains of unpayable debts, but the entire housing system could collapse without massive public investment in high-quality social housing!
There is one hope in this situation, and it is renters getting organized ourselves. Since this pandemic began, renters in cities across the country have taken up organizing in their buildings and neighborhoods. We have started to see what we can win when we organize – buildings have won rent reductions and cancellations, and founded new tenant unions that will serve as critical lines of defense in the coming months.
Trump and the ruling class are afraid of what could happen if renters join forces and demand the relief we need and deserve. Let’s show them that we can!
Did you miss the call? Register now for our next meeting on October 1st! In the meantime, you can support our movement by pitching in $15 to Rent Strike 2020.
Over 30 people from 12 cities across the country joined Rent Strike 2020’s September organizing call! A central part of Friday’s discussion was Trump’s executive order, prompted by the CDC, which extended a sweeping new ban on evictions in all rentals through the end of 2020. This is absolutely a victory for the movement and will save many renters from eviction in the coming months. It shows us that the ruling class is scared of what’s possible when renters get organized and fight collectively!
While this order should help keep people in their homes, it is not nearly enough. With the hoops that people have to jump through in order to qualify for the order’s protections, there are going to be many tenants slipping through the cracks, and many who already are. The number of renters at risk of eviction – between 30 and 40 million – has not changed, but the process has been postponed to avoid total chaos throughout the fall. Trump’s short-sighted measure is kicking the can down the road for millions of renters.
In cities all over the US, there are still thousands of eviction cases just waiting to be heard in court come January 1, and people are still facing illegal backdoor evictions. Rental debt is piling up – not only will people have massive sums to pay in full come the end of the year, but many renters are racking up credit card debt, dipping into minimal savings, selling valuables, and taking out high-interest loans. The rent is still due, late fees are not banned, and on top of this, landlords can still exploit loopholes in the ban and evict on the basis of petty lease violations. Landlords can even take their tenants to court to argue the tenant is “not covered” by the ban, and if the tenant is not able to prove to a judge that they qualify, they could be fined or even jailed.
Against the backdrop of these insufficient measures, Friday’s call highlighted the organizing that is happening all across the country! Renters are uniting in their buildings to fight against their landlords and forming tenant unions for the first time. Local campaigns are being taken up in cities and in neighborhoods inside cities, people are occupying eviction court and staging protests, and eviction defense is happening on the ground to keep people in their homes. All of these tactics will be needed in order to win any semblance of gains during this time, as we have seen that politicians are not doing it for us!
We were in a housing crisis long before COVID-19. It’s past the point where we can have an easy fix. What we need now are bold measures like rent cancellations, cancelling back rent owed, and banning late fees. As renters fall further and further behind on their rent and politicians do nothing to truly address the underlying threat of mass evictions, we know our organizing will have to continue!
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!
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