The New York Times - First it was the waitress whose restaurant closed. Then the waiter, the bartender, the substitute teacher, the hairdresser, the tattoo artist and the Walgreens manager.
One after the other, the tenants called and emailed their landlord, Bruce Brunner, to say they were out of work and the rent was going to be late. A week after the bill was due, some two dozen of Mr. Brunner’s 130 tenants had lost their jobs or had their hours reduced. He’s working out payment plans and using security deposits as a stopgap while directing tenants to the emerging patchwork of local, state and federal assistance programs.
“Six weeks ago, you could name your price and you’d have multiple people applying,” said Mr. Brunner, who lives in Minneapolis, where he owns and manages 20 duplexes and triplexes across the city. “Now you’re deferring and working out payment plans, and it’s only going to get worse.”
One week after the first of the month, tenants nationwide are already struggling with rents. In interviews with two dozen landlords — including companies with tens of thousands of units, nonprofit developers who house the working poor, and mom-and-pop operators living next door to their tenants — property owners say their collections have plunged as much of the economy has shut down to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
State and local eviction moratoriums may not be enough to stop a ‘tsunami of evictions and foreclosures’
Sacramento News & Review - Despite actions by Gov. Gavin Newsom and local politicians throughout the state, an untold number of California residents could lose their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Newsom issued two executive orders last month pausing the enforcement of court-ordered evictions through May 31 for tenants unable to pay their rents or mortgages due to COVID-19. In Sacramento County, these “unlawful detainer” court filings, as they’re officially known, have been trending downward since the Great Recession and were at some of their lowest levels at the start of 2020. But then the coronavirus began spreading here, forcing a halt to daily life and costing more than one million Californians their jobs in just two weeks.
Newsom’s executive actions were meant to reassure residents they wouldn’t be forced onto the streets during a global health crisis in which people are being urged to stay home. But the governor’s orders don’t actually prevent the eviction process from unfolding; they just give vulnerable tenants extra time—60 days instead of five—to respond to legal eviction notices filed in court during the state emergency.
Monday, the Judicial Council of California extended that grace period to 90 days.
Newsweek - California tenants are planning rent strikes as spiking unemployment and economic uncertainty have left many facing financial troubles. Activists have suggested that measures taken to protect renters in the state during the pandemic need to go further, with one renters' union co-founder telling The Guardian that California had to "do right by a majority of its constituents."
Several outlets have also reported that the rent strikes are due to take place this month in some of the Golden State's largest cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has led to business shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, initial jobless claims have soared to recording breaking levels, with more than three million recorded in the week ending March 21.
CapRadio - Just a few weeks ago, Uma Tufekcic was hustling two jobs: at a restaurant and an art gallery in Sacramento. Then, like millions across the globe, the coronavirus crisis yanked the rug out from under her.
Now, she has no income. She isolates at home every day with her kitten, Iris, and occasionally paints or sneaks out for a walk in the park.
But on Wednesday, it’s time to pay her landlord: $900 for her Midtown studio apartment.
“I have rent due on the first like everybody else,” Tufekcic said. “And I need to be saving my little bit of savings for buying food, survival things.”
She has a plan.
“What I'm going to do,” she said, “is I'm going to not pay my rent.”
She and other tenants are calling this decision a “rent strike,” something residents across the country are considering as the rent comes due in this coronavirus era.
KQED - April 1 is the day rent is due for many around the Bay Area, but in the midst of a statewide shelter-in-place order, many are hard pressed to pay. Instead of suffering silently, however, some Bay Area tenants are launching a campaign to withhold rent.
A group of at least 20 calling themselves rent strikers are issuing Gov. Gavin Newsom their own 30-day notice to cancel all rent and mortgage payments during the current public health crisis. If he fails to act, renters across the state are planning to withhold rent payments beginning on May 1.
“Housing Is Health”: Calls Grow for California to Give Vacant Homes to Unhoused People Amid Pandemic
DEMOCRACY NOW! - We look at the crisis of homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic in California, where the number of cases has passed 6,000 with 132 deaths. The entire state has been ordered to shelter in place, leaving the state’s massive unhoused population extremely vulnerable. As the state braces for a surge in cases, tens of thousands of people are living on the streets. A recent study estimates that nearly 2,600 unhoused people will need to be hospitalized for the virus in Los Angeles alone — and nearly 1,000 will need intensive care. We speak with Martha Escudero, a member of a group of unhoused mothers, elders and families who have moved into vacant houses, and Carroll Fife, director of the Oakland office for Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).
Interest in tenant activism has surged in the face of the coronavirus. Organizers are trying to seize the moment and build a movement.
THE NEW REPUBLIC - Last week, the head of the St. Louis Federal Reserve, James Bullard, predicted that in the second quarter of 2020, the U.S. economy could see a 30 percent unemployment rate and a 50 percent drop in gross domestic product. Both of these numbers far surpass their respective equivalencies during the Great Depression, with the slash in GDP dwarfing the downturn of the 2008 crash by factors of 10. “This is a planned, organized partial shutdown of the U.S. economy in the second quarter,” Bullard said during the press call, voice quiet and flat. “It is a huge shock, and we are trying to cope with it and keep it under control.”
As most workers in this country live paycheck to paycheck—some surveys place that number at half of the workforce, others reach closer to 80 percent—Bullard’s predictions point to an economic disaster that will likely hit people hardest in the area that consumes the majority of their paychecks: housing. Millions of new unemployment filings have surfaced in the last week, with several states’ unemployment and Medicare websites crashing due to the rise in applicants. Even with some supports from the stimulus bill, renters are still scrambling to come up with rent money on April 1. A $1,200 government check doesn’t mean much when it barely covers a month’s rent in many cities.
Across the country, rents have soared as real wages remain stagnant. Nearly half of New York City households are considered rent-burdened, which means they pay more than 30 percent of their income just to keep a roof over their heads. In Oakland, California, where rents have skyrocketed in recent years, a group of lifelong residents moved into a long-vacant house in protest of the lack of affordable housing. In the wake of the pandemic in Los Angeles, where minimum-wage workers need to pull nearly 80-hour shifts just to reach the “rent-burdened” threshold, unhoused families reclaimed 13 vacant homes, both as protest and a means of survival. As The New Republic reported last summer, even in America’s most affluent cities, low-income families fall through the cracks in a system so broken that it fails to even document the rapid spread of housing insecurity.
In response to a crisis further inflamed by the coronavirus, existing housing rights organizations have been struggling to meet new calls for organizing and resources, many of which have coalesced around a radical demand: A nationwide rent strike.
THE NEW YORKER - California has the worst housing crisis in the country—so bad that, when Governor Gavin Newsom took office, in 2019, he used his inaugural address to call for a “Marshall Plan for affordable housing,” entailing the construction of 3.5 million housing units by 2025. This month, with an uptick in covid-19 cases in Los Angeles, and orders from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti directing city residents to stay home at all costs, activists have turned their attention to hundreds of empty, publicly owned houses. There are thirty-six thousand homeless people in Los Angeles and countless others living in crowded, inadequate, and unstable situations. Wouldn’t they, too, be safer in a home? The acute crisis of the coronavirus, and the paradox of stay-at-home orders for a homeless population, might offer activists a chance to force decisive change.
In mid-March, a group of homeless and housing-insecure people calling themselves the Reclaimers took possession of eleven vacant houses in a quiet working-class neighborhood called El Sereno, east of downtown. The houses are among hundreds that Caltrans, the state’s transportation authority, bought last century, with the goal of demolishing them to make way for an expansion of the 710 Freeway. They were vacant—many of them unoccupied for years. According to Roberto Flores, a tenants-rights activist, after buying the houses, Caltrans rented them out, sometimes to their previous owners, then raised rents precipitously, forcing many of them out. (That’s what happened to him.) Recently, after decades of protest from environmentalists, preservationists, and social-justice activists in El Sereno, South Pasadena, and Pasadena, the freeway project was finally spiked, leaving the real estate in limbo—conspicuous waste amid a catastrophic housing shortage.