Rent strike! How COVID-19 is disrupting rent, evictions and the housing market


The story is the same across the United States.

Millions of households — one third of renters nationwide — have been unable to make rent payments in April, due to the pandemic lockdowns that have swept the country.

Real estate prognosticators fear this could lead to a catastrophic “domino effect” of missed rent, late mortgage, and utility-service cutoffs that could disrupt the housing economy from top to bottom, to disastrous effect.

Evictions on hold — for now

Landlords have been, in most cases, ordered to stand down from attempts to have their tenants evicted.

Deprived of this income, some landlords have also been temporarily relieved from making mortgage payments.

Future months, however, are another story.

Moratoriums on paying rent in New York and California are temporary only, and the governors of both states — Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom, respectively — have said that once the lockdowns are over, payment will be due.

Failure to pay has led some to believe that a wave of evictions — and perhaps foreclosures as well — is in the near future.

In anticipation of this, a national rent-strike movement is taking shape, with more than 70 rent strikes active across the nation.

Property management companies across the United States have already seen significant dips from collections.

A growing movement

The scale of what is happening is much greater than anything seen in recent history.

While traditional strikes are typically measures of pressure against single landlords, the dozens of rent strikes ongoing across the country right now are broad-based, seeking the cancellation of rent altogether for vast numbers of people.

• In Philadelphia, tenant unions are operating online to train participants in collective action steps that result in non-payment of rent.

• In San Diego, where a rent strike has already been organized by the San Diego Tenants Union.

• The Bloomington Solidarity Network in Indiana is urging renters in Monroe County, Indiana to simply not pay rent, and trying to organize groups of rent strikers to confront predatory property management companies en masse.

New York: It begins in Brooklyn

Bushwick, the countercultural Mecca in New York’s Brooklyn borough, is a hotbed for rent strike movements.

Thousands of workers there are preparing for the end of Governor Cuomo’s three-month moratorium on rent and mortgage payments this summer.

One Facebook page,“Action: New York City Rent Strike,” started by a Bushwick small business owner, rapidly garnered thousands of members.

Using the page, stressed renters across the city discuss solutions and ideas ranging from leftist idealism about class war, to a pragmatic push for legislation that will permanently waive the three months of payments.

The South: Where it’s getting real

Before COVID-19, the American South already had the highest rates of evictions and the most landlord-friendly rental protections in the nation.

Gentrification and de-densification have already put enormous pressures on minority populations, primarily black, in many Southern cities.

But it is unclear whether rent strikes can gain traction — in Georgia, for example, they are downright illegal.

The current moratoriums, however, are at least giving housing-rights groups time to prepare renters — with allies in the legal system — for challenging to what is expected to be a “tsunami of evictions” once landlords are allowed to collect rent again this summer.

Sources: The Real Deal: New York Real Estate News, CBS 8, Indiana Public Media, Bushwick Daily (Brooklyn, NY), Scalawag Magazine

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