Millions of people in the United States have lost their jobs and cannot afford to pay rent due to business shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although residents are facing unemployment and lack of financial support during the pandemic, landlords are still evicting them from their homes. The CDC issued a federal moratorium on Sept. 4, requiring states to stop housing evictions during the pandemic until Jan. 1.
Instead of helping tenants during the pandemic, state legislators are aiding landlords in expediting housing evictions. Many states are still allowing the evictions to happen, using legislative loopholes to proceed. Some states have even lifted their own moratoriums, allowing landlords to proceed with evictions during the pandemic and leaving tenants without additional protection. Very little financial support has come from state officials to help with paying rent. The states that do offer it give the financial assistance straight to the landlords instead of tenants, place strict restrictions on who qualifies to receive it, or do not allocate enough funds to meet the demand for rental assistance. Tenants are stepping out to demand an end to pandemic housing evictions—and to cancel their rent.
According to the Aspen Institute, an estimated 40 million people, particularly BIPOC, are at risk for eviction during this pandemic. Forty-three percent of renter households are estimated to be facing eviction by the end of the year if the pandemic continues without any financial support to renters. Many fear they won’t have the money to pay for rent. A recent study conducted by Stout, an investing consulting firm, found that Black and Latinx renters are less confident in their ability to pay rent than white renters. The latest data shows that 38% of Black renters and 35% of Latinx renters have no or slight confidence in paying next month’s rent, while 18% of white renters have no or slight confidence. Asian Americans are also experiencing a high rate of joblessness at over 10%, a rate currently higher than white people, which contributes to the inability to pay rent.
Yet, housing evictions have continued in many states despite tenants being unable to pay rent during the pandemic. State legislators have offered little relief to renters and mortgage payers to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In California, for example, state legislators voted to resume eviction hearings in state courts in August, favoring landlords who were against waiving rent for tenants. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Aug. 31 that halted housing evictions until Jan. 31 as a compromise between landlords looking for income and tenants who couldn’t pay rent. The bill comes with conditions that tenants won’t be evicted if they can pay 25% of their rent and can send a declaration to their landlord stating lack of financial funds due to the pandemic’s shutdowns. Although this offers temporary housing protection for tenants, it does not absolve the accumulated debt coming from unpaid rent during the pandemic. Starting in March 2021, California landlords can sue tenants in small claims courts for unpaid rent, leaving tenants with debt and no real financial relief.
Other states such as Texas have followed suit in providing little financial relief to tenants. Prior to the federal moratorium, Houston operated under the state moratorium until May 19. After the tenant protections were lifted, the city saw an increase in the number of eviction cases filed until the CDC moratorium order. According to Princeton University’s Eviction Tracker, Houston landlords filed over 13,769 eviction cases since March 15. The city leads the country in the number of eviction cases filed even after the national eviction moratorium.
Florida tenants also received little support when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Sept, 30 that he will allow the state’s eviction moratorium to expire on Oct. 1, leaving many tenants vulnerable to eviction. The state eviction moratorium was issued in April with revisions to the law made in July to allow a temporary expansion of the law for broader interpretation. Eviction cases filed saw an increase after the revision of the moratorium gave leeway for landlords to continue removing tenants from their homes. Many tenants protested outside of the governor’s mansion for months, demanding a deadline extension of the eviction moratorium. DeSantis did not budge.
Due to inaction from lawmakers, tenants are left with no other choice but to fight for their right to stay in their homes. KC Tenants, a tenant organizing group in Kansas City, chained the doors of the city courthouse shut on Oct. 15 to prevent any in-person eviction hearings from taking place. Tiana Caldwell, an organizer with KC Tenants, was at the courthouse before the hearings began with her hands chained to the doors, keeping people from coming in or out. Their direct action, an eviction of the courts, forced landlords out, giving tenants little more time in their homes.
“We did find out from a couple of tenants that their cases was postponed until like January and one until next June,” Caldwell said. “So we were at least heard.”
It didn’t just stop at disrupting in-person eviction hearings. KC Tenants also shut down online proceedings for eviction cases. For the first time in their organizing tactics, Caldwell and other tenant organizers joined each online hearing with tenants and chanted how proceeding with evictions is an act of violence all day until the hearings were shut down.
“Our government didn’t come to our rescue but our community did,” Caldwell said. “It’s just because we saved us. In all that time that it took for [the government] to provide any type of relief … the community already managed together to take care of each other.”
Other tenant organizers have also taken matters into their own hands to end housing evictions during the pandemic. New Orleans tenants also stopped eviction hearings by linking arms with fellow protesters and forming a blockade in front of the city’s courthouse. Landlords were unable to get inside the courthouse to file evictions against their tenants, leaving them with no choice but to turn back. Tenants in San Diego protested outside of the downtown courthouse, demanding the governor and lawmakers provide more protections for tenants besides the temporary ban on housing evictions ridden with requirements.
Until state legislators concede the evictions or cancel rent for tenants, organizers will keep pushing until every person gets to stay housed during the COVID-19 pandemic. “They say it can’t be done, but that’s just something we don’t ever listen to,” Caldwell said. “We keep getting past those things that they say we can’t do. We’re just going to keep on going.”