On March 18, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a statewide lockdown to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Even before then, schools had closed. Workers started to lose their jobs and the means to support their families. Loved ones started to fall ill.
Rampant inequality in California existed before the coronavirus arrived and a housing affordability and homelessness crisis had been the focus of many community groups working for solutions to a seemingly insurmountable problem. Many of our neighbors were already living in homeless encampments. Speculators have already driven up the cost of housing far beyond what many families could afford. Tenants have been forced to pay unaffordable rents to stay in their own communities and are living paycheck to paycheck, unable to save for emergencies.
The virus has revealed devastating fault lines in our system.
As the crisis deepens, federal and state elected officials continue to do the bare minimum. In California, Governor Newsom’s misleading press statement that he issued a “ban on evictions” when in reality, it is just a delay in proceedings, has confused tenants about their legal rights, while adding no real protections. Cities throughout the state have attempted to fill in the gaps, leaving a patchwork of legal defenses for tenants, who will still owe rent that they cannot pay back and who can be evicted on June 1 if they did not pay April and May’s rent.
On March 25, Governor Newsom reached a deal with four of the nation’s five largest banks to delay mortgage payments and suspend foreclosures for up to 90 days for California homeowners and other property owners affected by the pandemic. Meanwhile, the state’s nearly six million renters are still expected to pay up on April 1. Even with massive bailouts planned at every level of the government, millions of middle and working class Americans, as well as countless people already struggling at the margins, are being left behind.
Now retail employees, college students, gig workers and many more must work together to figure out how we will get through the crisis.
We already know the answer: we will get through it together.
In Oakland, tenants already passed a real moratorium on evictions. But today, April 1, when rent is due, many of us are faced with difficult choices. Many of us are worried about how we will continue to feed our families. Many of us are unable to pay our rent. It is time to organize with any and all tenants in this situation.
Today, an organized group of tenants in Oakland are beginning a rent strike. We call on others to join us.
Faced with the choice between paying for food, healthcare and other essentials, and handing over a check for overpriced and overcrowded housing, we do what we must for our families to survive. Keeping our rent is the only option tenants have to uphold our right to housing during the crisis. We do not plan on ever paying the rent back. Instead, we want it to be forgiven.
This tactic is not new. For decades, tenants have used collective action to demand better living conditions and lower housing costs. Last year, a group of tenants living on 29th Avenue in Oakland began a rent strike after their landlord nearly doubled the rent over three years. Through collective organizing and withholding their rent, they brought the landlord to the table. They have now started negotiations to sell the building to a local land trust and bring it under community control.
This fight isn’t only limited to tenants.
Homeowners should not be afraid of losing their homes. Small landlords can also join us by forgiving their tenants’ rents and standing with us against large real estate capital, and demanding action from our elected officials together.. Together we can demand rent and mortgage forgiveness during the crisis, and ensure that when it ends, our homes don’t fall into the hands of private equity firms. We refuse to repeat the exploitation that followed the 2008 economic crisis after the mortgage bubble burst.
Out of this moment we envision a broader shift in our housing system. These are not individual problems. This can serve as a turning point if we take our isolated struggles and transform them into collective power.
Thus, we are not only going on rent strike because now in this moment, we have no choice, but we are also calling on individuals who are not immediately economically impacted by Covid-19 to be in real solidarity with those of us who are. Join us in this strike.
Many among us are already unsheltered completely, or live in their cars, or in garages, or move from place to place each day. Our leaders have never prioritized this suffering. But during this pandemic, we as a community must rise together and we must truly love and protect each other. It is imperative that we use this moment to act together to create the conditions that make it possible for everyone to have a home.
And right now, to get there, we are not paying rent. Period.
Oakland Eviction Moratorium FAQs (English)