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Housing Roundup: We host an on-air Tenants Rights Clinic; Plus: Finding housing after being released from jail, how LA is grappling with 60,000 homeless, and the International Rent Strike on May 1

KPFA - KPFA News: Now a look at organizing. Housing rights advocates are trying to build momentum behind a demand they call “cancel rent”–a call to go further than the limited eviction pause ordered by Governor Gavin Newsom under the state of emergency. KPFA’s Scott Baba reports. 

Tenants in the US are planning the largest rent strike in decades as the coronavirus cuts off more than 30 million people from their incomes

 

Business Insider - "Before the COVID-19 virus, 70% of our income went toward rent," said Vanessa Bulnes, 61, her voice crackling over a Zoom call with housing organizers and media on Thursday. 

Like tens of millions of tenants around the country, Bulnes and her 71-year-old husband, who live in Oakland, California, are out of work.

Even before the crisis, housing was not affordable, she said. Her husband suffered a stroke just before the 2009 financial crisis, and she's been the sole breadwinner ever since.

"We've always been on the edge of homelessness," Bulnes, an organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said.

On Friday, May 1, Bulnes will join the legion of tenants unable to pay rent. It's not clear exactly how many renters will go on strike, but organized efforts in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Colorado, California, Washington state, and elsewhere point to the largest rent strike in decades.

Coronavirus Catalyzes Tenant Organizing Across California

 

KQED - It started with a message Jason Krueger taped to the laundry room wall: “Tenant mutual aid and support!”

It was late March, and Krueger, who uses they/them pronouns, was looking for ways neighbors in their eight-unit Alameda apartment building could help each other during the pandemic. California’s shelter-in-place order had been in effect for a little over a week, but Krueger was already thinking of the recession that was sure to follow.

Millions would soon be out of work, so Krueger thought the next step would be to organize a rent strike — withholding rent as a form of protest.

“Here, of all the places, it seemed like rent strikes would be a life-preserving measure,” Krueger said. “I just don’t see how else you would get property owners to respond without that large level of collective action and solidarity.”

So, to start, Krueger decided to try to form a tenants' council, an organization representing residents in a single building, or who share the same landlord, to bargain collectively.

Krueger's not alone. Tenants' rights organizers say they are seeing more tenants, like Krueger, turn to collective action. And on Friday, hundreds of protests are planned across the country to decry high rents, mounting debt due to the pandemic and growing income inequality.

CALIFORNIA TENANTS WILL GO ON A RENT STRIKE IF THE STATE FALLS SHORT OF CANCELLING RENT

Laid-off workers say they face insurmountable debt and homelessness if they have to pay back months of rent after the pandemic.

The Appeal - Tenants across California are poised to launch a rent and mortgage strike on May 1 if state leaders fail to provide immediate rent relief to residents who have lost their income due to COVID-19.

California Governor Gavin Newsom handed down an executive order one month ago banning the enforcement of evictions until May 31, after stay-at-home orders shut down businesses and unemployment claims surged. But renters, activists, and legal advocates were quick to point out that the measure doesn’t provide rent relief—residents will still owe back rent after stay-at-home orders are lifted. Over the past month, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment has been organizing a movement of both tenants and landlords who are seeking lasting rent relief from the state government.

Exigen alto al pago de la renta en California durante la pandemia del coronavirus

 

LA Times - Una coalición de una docena de organizaciones y activistas comunitarios se unen para exigirle al gobierno de Sacramento, el gobierno del condado de Los Ángeles y la ciudad, el alto al pago de alquileres, hipotecas y encarcelamiento durante la crisis del coronavirus.

Los activistas empezaron sus acciones este lunes con una caravana de automóviles que visitó las instituciones locales, estatales y federales, incluyendo el Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas, el Ayuntamiento de Sacramento y la Junta de Supervisores, así como el Edificio del Capitolio del Estado de California.

Los activistas sostienen que a medida que la crisis de COVID-19 continúa interrumpiendo la vida diaria, dejando a más de 26 millones de personas sin trabajo mientras las rentas y otras deudas continúan aumentando, la mayoría de los recursos movilizados por los líderes del gobierno se han canalizado a corporaciones multinacionales. Sin embargo, muy poca ayuda ha llegado a las manos de los afectados.

How a Bay Area rent strike might work

San Francisco Curbed - With so many people in the Bay Area out of work and unsure how to pay next month’s rent, tenant groups are suggesting a singular solution: that renters refuse to pay their landlords and instead opt for a rent strike.

“Systems have come to a halt, industries have crashed, and millions of people have lost their jobs,” notes Bay Area Rent Strike, a grassroots effort that hopes to organize tenants into a region-wide nonpayment movement.

“Without any reliable source of income, without work, sick days, and access to the most basic needs like food and safe shelter, many of us will not survive,” notes the would-be strike organization.

Coronavirus makes Calif.’s housing crisis that much scarier for families like mine

Center for Health Journalism - As virtually everyone in the nation endures some form of sheltering-at-home, many homeless people and those without secure housing do not have a place to keep safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state of California has been facing a housing crisis for many years. When we have a pandemic, the housing shortage becomes a public health crisis.

I am a mother of two daughters who for the past 18 months has been sleeping on spare beds, couches, or sometimes on the bare floor. Until recently, my family would go from house to house, often using public transportation, toting just our clothing in bags. This instability has led to a lot of anxiety and depression for my two daughters and me. For my daughters, it has undermined their ability to concentrate and learn. 

Three years ago, I was living in Boyle Heights, paying $1,200 for a two-bedroom apartment. I left the country for two years to visit friends in South America and lived in a rural area away from the city. When I returned to Los Angeles, rents at the places I was looking at had doubled. I was unable to afford to live on my own. My daughters, 10 and 8, were forced to live with friends and family. We made do in crowded spaces, sometimes on a spare bed, other times on the floor or on couches. We lived out of clothing from bags that we moved around with us. It made it really hard to provide the kind of stability we know children need to thrive.

CITIES ROLL OUT RENT ASSISTANCE. ADVOCATES DEMAND BIGGER AND BOLDER HELP.

From Boston to San Jose, new initiatives help thousands of renters face COVID-19. But low funding, poor tenants’ protections, and overwhelmed systems have housing advocates worried the programs are falling short.

THE APPEAL - On April 1, Mayra Molina didn’t have the $2700 she needed to pay rent. When the novel coronavirus started spreading in Boston, the families that employ her as a housekeeper called one after another to tell her not to come to work. Her two sons, with whom she shares her East Boston apartment, had their construction jobs canceled, too. 

When Molina heard that the city was launching a rent assistance program, she hoped it would help her cover next month’s rent, at least. But she has gotten no response since she applied weeks ago. Because she’s undocumented, she’s not eligible for the stimulus check, nor for unemployment benefits. The situation is causing her insomnia and severe anxiety, which spikes her blood pressure, she told the Appeal: Political Report. When she went to a clinic, a counselor told her  not to worry about the rent, she said. “Well, that’s what worries us all, I think.”

Molina is one of the 31 percent of Americans who couldn’t pay rent at the beginning of this month. With more than 22 million having lost their jobs in the last four weeks, that number is likely to be even higher on May 1. 

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