Even before the COVID pandemic hit, the U.S. was in a deep housing crisis. Not a stock market property crisis. The crisis of hundreds of thousands of people living in grossly inadequate housing — or actually houseless, with no access at all to permanent shelter.
In recent years, homelessness in New York City has reached its highest point since the 1930s Great Depression. In May, with the current health emergency, there were almost 60,000 houseless people in the city. (coalitionforthehomeless.org)
Many of those who do have housing are unable to pay their rent or home mortgages after losing jobs and wages in the economic shutdown. The federal moratorium on evictions passed by Congress in March expired July 24. On Sept. 2, President Trump finally renewed that through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Evictions are now prohibited from Sept. 4 through Dec. 31.
But this stopgap merely delays evictions until after the November presidential election. Renters are responsible for all the rent they can’t pay now. Their back rent is piling up, like snow in bitter cold, and people will end up thrown out into the streets in January or February anyway.
The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project calculates that 19 to 23 million U.S. renters are at risk of eviction by the end of 2020 — as much as 21% of renter households. (Aspen Institute, Aug. 7) This does not include homeowners who will lose homes because they cannot make mortgage payments. A Columbia University economist, Brendan O’Flaherty, estimates that U.S. houselessness could increase as much as 45% in 2020. (tinyurl.com/yafpaaus)
This crisis has hit people of color and the poorest people hardest, along with women, seniors, immigrants, the LGBTQ2S+ community and people with disabilities.
The skimpy patchwork of eviction protection in some cities and states is grossly inadequate. For instance, when Austin, Texas, distributed $1.2 million of emergency rental relief funds in May, this helped only 1,600 of the 11,000 people who applied. (kvue.com, May 1)
Cuba, which has subdued the pandemic through centralized planning, already has protections in place against houselessness and evictions. In 1959, the victory of the Cuban Revolution granted peasants the land they had worked for wealthy landowners. In the cities, people collectively built and own their apartment buildings. The government keeps housing prices low, so the rate of homeownership is around 85%. (tinyurl.com/y48aarz3)
What socialist Cuba has achieved in housing is yet to be won in the U.S. But those in struggle here are showing tremendous determination, recalling the fighting example of the militant, communist-led movement in the 1930s, which blocked evictions by predatory landlords and bankers.
In Philadelphia, people who are houseless set up an encampment beside the gentrified development that displaced them — and are now resisting being evicted from their “homeless camp.” When evictions loomed in Brooklyn, the anti-gentrification group Equality for Flatbush rushed a social media call to activists: “Illegal lock out in progress — Go and support tenants now!” In Oakland, Calif., Moms 4 Housing “repossessed” a vacant and abandoned house to give their families a home. (See Workers World, Jan. 20 and Aug. 20)
This defiant working-class solidarity can end the housing crisis caused by capitalism and give priority to the needs of the most oppressed, particularly people of color.
We demand: No evictions; abolish all pandemic rental and mortgage debt; cancel all pandemic utility charges; reduce, freeze and stabilize rent payments; convert vacant buildings and short-term rentals into available housing for those in need; and provide free housing for those in COVID quarantine, including for released prisoners.
We say, “Housing is a right for all!”