(Big shout out to Proleroid for amazing photos documenting the people’s movement! Check out their work on IG)
Los Angeles: In solidarity with a Statewide Rent and Mortgage Moratorium!
If you are a renter in Los Angeles, you are probably two paychecks away from being
homeless or at the mercy of your support circle. According to a 2017 survey by
CareerBuilder, “78 percent of U.S. workers live paycheck to paycheck to make ends
meet.” In a city like Los Angeles, “Many [tenants] are severely rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than 50% of their incomes toward rent,” according to Neighborhood Data for Social Change published by the University of Southern California in 2013. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, what happens to you when your job cuts your hours, your employer furloughs you, or your gigs cease to exist? You might be lucky enough to apply for unemployment and still be able to pay your rent. However, in Los Angeles -grassroots and non-profit organizations have decided to take a political stand and organize in favor of a Rent and Mortgage Moratorium: a halt – deletion – suspension of rent and mortgages, so that all Angelenos – regardless of access to legal counsel or immigration status, can have secure housing, a basic human right.
Whether it is access to cash relief, food assistance, or remote community support –
organizations like the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU), Inclusive Action, and Union
del Barrio as well as networks such as Healthy LA made up of, “260+ advocacy
organizations, worker centers, labor unions, service providers, religious congregations, community groups, affordable housing developers, public interest lawyers, public health and safety organizations, and many more uniting across lines of race, class, and geography to propose concrete solutions to the many hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” are leading grassroots efforts to connect some of our most vulnerable communities to resources that should otherwise be coming directly from the state of California. According to Forbes’s Best States for Business 2019, “If it were a country, California’s $3.1 trillion economy would be the fifth biggest in the world.” In comparison, a country like Venezuela ranked as 30th biggest economy in the world by the World Bank and currently still under U.S. sanctions – affecting its supply of medical and construction equipment for the past five years, has been able to declare a 6 month nation-wide rent suspension for homes and businesses as well as placed a hold on the collecting of credit payments as of March 22nd, 2020.
Maybe you are not a renter — maybe you own your property, great! However, if you are a politician living rent free (like Mayor Eric Garcetti – living at the Getty House in
Windsor Square since 2013, owned by the City of LA) and/or are a city representative
and a landlord with property directly in the city (like my CD9 Councilmember Curren
Price with 13 reported rental properties!) — you might find yourself either removed from the experience of the average working class Angeleno or clouded by the thought that your income will be taking a hit with unclear moratoriums in place.
What should happen? After a grueling couple of weeks of feeling insecure about my
personal housing situation and employment (guess who is a renter and works two jobs, to make ends meet!), being a part of various LA Tenants chapter online meetings and listening in on case work analysis provided in a partnership with the Eviction Defense Network, as well as seeing the world fall apart around me — it is clear to me that the only solution is to mass mobilize.
Quite simply put, the time to be on the people’s side is now. Our working class
communities are coming to face a stark reality – that maybe, in our everyday comfort, we were quick to dismiss out of inexperience or exhaustion – the government, your boss, and quite possibly your landlord do not give a shit about you.
On a personal level, in California it can go a variation of two ways – your landlord is
angry and will pile paperwork on you demanding that you pay your rent OR your
landlord will want to strike a deal with you.. Maybe you think it is fair at first because,
why wouldn’t you want to have a deal on your rent? Many tenants have reported to their local LATU Chapter Representatives that landlords have approached them with deals to momentarily lower their rent if they amend their contracts with payment plans, going so far as being willing to collect partial rent amounts to get an immediate tenant signature in an agreement.
Unfortunately, as weeks pass us by, renters are realizing that we are now days away
from the next payment and they either continue to have no employment or have not
received unemployment benefits. What about our undocumented families that contribute taxes but will not be able to receive any government assistance? According to statistics put forth by UC Davis as many as 60% of farm workers are undocumented. These workers are at the frontlines, making sure we have access to fresh fruits and vegetables and are as of March 28th, 2020 considered part of the “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce” aka “Essential Workers” by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), through its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), yet these same farmers will not receive any stimulus check, continue to face exposure to a potentially deadly illness, and are expected to pay rent along with the rest of us while banks and corporations continue to be bailed out.
What can one do? Join an organization or create one. As a current member of the L.A.
Tenants Union – South Central Chapter and a member of Union del Barrio, I empathize with the frustration felt by my neighbors and comrades – you are not alone, in fact, you could probably be the poster child for this movement. However, as a long time community organizer and volunteer — I know that politicians will take a decade to pass a citywide policy, let alone a statewide bill as was evident in the struggles of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Movement, led primarily by single immigrant mothers many of them often limited or completely excluded from exercising their political voice because of a lack of access to direct translation services at spaces like LA City Hall, translation services that their tax dollars paid for to facilitate their civic engagement. Because of the urgency this rent and mortgage crisis presents, this is the time to become involved in your city’s and state’s political arenas.
You are far from alone and are in a prime moment to make housing history, not just for yourself and your direct neighbors but be in a position to set the example for how cities and states should run, especially those who rely on a workforce of people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, people who have limited to no healthcare benefits, and people who while they may be deemed heroes for keeping your local grocery store and hospital running – now have to face whether they will choose food, rent, or paying their mortgage. Our enemy is capitalism and if our government chooses rent, chooses mortgage payments over people, over YOU – then join your local tenants unions, community organizations, coalitions, and networks to bring forward your demands and collectively decide the fate of your state. For a list of ways to get involved in Los Angeles and California:
Los Angeles Tenants Unions
Eviction Defense Network
Inclusive Action for the City
GoFundme: The Street Vendor Emergency Fund
Union del Barrio: Community Guidelines for Addressing COVID-19 Pandemic
Healthy LA Network