Five months into the economic crisis, millions of workers throughout the United States are facing unemployment, poverty, and evictions. United Neighborhood Defense Movement calls upon tenants all over the country to organize and fight back against evictions.
The Situation at Hand
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment fell to 10.2 percent in July – while this marks an improvement from the prior months, it’s over 2.5 times the rate in February. Furthermore, the number of people “jobless less than 5 weeks increased by 364,000 to 3.2 million in July,” while the number of people “jobless 15 to 26 weeks rose by 4.6 million to 6.5 million.” Although some people have managed to find employment during the crisis, the reality is that people are still losing their jobs daily, and people who lost theirs towards the start of the crisis are by and large still unemployed. The $600 unemployment check boost that could offer some meager relief to these unemployed workers, meanwhile, has come and passed, only to be replaced by a $400 boost that will also expire in a few months. Workers who are still employed are not faring much better – ruling class media outlet CNBC reports that “full-time minimum wage workers cannot afford […] a one-bedroom rental in 95% of US counties,” while even workers making as much as $18.22 per hours “cannot afford rent.” The reality, then, is that tens of millions of US workers, unemployed or working full-time, cannot afford basic living expenses like food or rent.
With the inability to pay rent comes the risk of mass evictions. As many as 58.16% of rental households in the state of Mississippi are facing evictions, while the percentage nationally isn’t much better at 42.56%. Landlords all over the country are still demanding money from their tenants, regardless of their financial situations. Many of these landlords could easily be bailed out and they know it – tenants most affected by the depression often live in apartments covered by federally-backed mortgages, and these companies can receive mortgage relief if they suspend evictions. Profiting off tenants, even if rent payments make tenants’ lives miserable, is their main concern, even above these relief measures. And if they can’t collect this money, they will do everything they can to force tenants to pay up or leave.
The eviction is an act of reactionary VIOLENCE perpetrated against the tenant by the landlord. Tenants are being forcibly removed from their units by property management and faced with the realities of homelessness and starvation. The eviction process also brings police directly to the doorsteps of its victims, and considering how often cops murder working people during routine traffic stops and wellness checks, a very real danger to the life of the tenants is posed by their presence. They must be protected from this danger at all costs, and it’s up to organizers and neighbors to come to their defense.
Although there are federal and several statewide/citywide moratoriums that bar nonpayment / nonviolent evictions, we cannot depend on them. The nationwide moratorium only affects properties with federal mortgages, meaning about ¾ of the nation’s rental units don’t apply. These moratoriums don’t stop landlords from harassing tenants into setting up payment plans, which almost always cost more for the tenant long-term. They don’t stop landlords from looking for lease violations to evict tenants for nonpayment reasons, nor do they stop landlords from proceeding with illegal evictions if they think they can get away with it (they usually escape legal repercussions in any case). And lastly, these moratoriums seek to pacify potential rent strikers and wear them down over time. They do not fix the conditions that are harming tenants; they merely delay their effects, and that delay eventually comes to an end (many states’ and cities’ bans have expired; others never had them). If they actually fixed anything, we wouldn’t see 42.16% of rental households facing evictions.
Rent “Relief” programs popping up around the country aren’t any better. The programs launched in the State of New Jersey, Santa Cruz, and Austin invariably describe the process as a “lottery,” meaning that most tenants who apply out of desperation for the money won’t see a cent of it go towards their needs. Furthermore, while the amounts vary from program to program, they all go directly to the landlords. The programs do not solve issues like tenants’ other living expenses (namely food) or paying rent longterm – they hand money over directly to the landlord. The program in New Jersey even demands that tenants who are unemployed continue to pay 30% of their income (WHAT income???) to rent! If these programs are expanded or repeated, it just means more money for property owners, NOT more money to keep families afloat.
All of the above “relief” efforts, as well as the $1200 stimulus check that landlords saw as prepackaged rent payments, are the ruling class’s attempts to appease the working class. These gestures are hollow and generally benefit them more than us, but they must ensure their workforce is capable of doing the work (which requires a minimal amount of financial stability) and isn’t on the verge of rebellion. Trump’s executive orders – the $400 boost and the nationwide moratorium – are especially shameless maneuvers to convince the working class (who by and large DON’T VOTE) to back his reactionary policies and bid for reelection.
Regardless, all of these tactics fail to address both the superficial issues workers are facing and the deeper underlying problems at the economic base. Even before the crisis the US economy was on the verge of collapse, as the national debt surged to $23 trillion last October. The ruling class cannot even save itself from ruin. It is absurd, then, for us to hope these parasites will save us as well. Once again, it is up to the working class to fend for itself.
The Fight, Quite Literally, at Our Doorstep
With massive unemployment and unaffordable living expenses, nonpayment of rent is an inevitable reality for millions of tenants. In turn, a wave of evictions and violence against tenants by landlords and police is imminent, and none of the bread crumbs the ruling class drops for us will change this. As workers we can’t realistically escape this conflict – even if some of us individually manage to stay afloat, countless neighbors and loved ones are still stuck in this situation. We can either be brutalized by the ruling class or fight back and defend our homes. UNDM calls upon tenants all around the country to take up the latter task and form bodies to defend working-class neighborhoods from evictions and oppression. Neighborhood defense organizations, both UNDM chapters and unaffiliated organizations, have already taken up this task in major US cities with successful results, but these efforts must expand NATIONALLY.
Every state. Every city. Every neighborhood must have organized tenants ready to fight back against evictions!