With the closing of businesses across the country due to the coronavirus, many workers must face the idea of not being able to pay their rent. For cities that are already suffering a homeless crisis, the health risks are increased even further by the presence of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Luckily, city officials, activists and even property owners are taking action to curtail the economic panic many Americans are experiencing. In some cases, their actions highlight issues that will long continue even when the coronavirus is contained.
Cities like Seattle and states like New York have temporarily suspended evictions to help residents whose livelihood is impacted by the coronavirus. “We have entered an unprecedented era for our city,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement. “Too many families are already struggling, and COVID-19 virus has disproportionately affected the communities who can least afford it.”
With most of the suspensions, property owners aren’t allowed to issue new eviction notes or carry out existing ones. A majority of the suspensions last for 30 days, although Boston’s could last up to three months. The mayor of the city, Martin J. Walsh, announced a moratorium on rent in partnership with the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, its entity the Massachusetts Apartment Association, and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations.
“This moratorium could last up to 90 days, with decisions being reviewed every 30 days,” said Greg Vasil, CEO and President of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. “The halting of evictions will apply to those who are directly impacted by economic loss due to the coronavirus outbreak. We understand the pressure residents are feeling during this crisis, and ensuring Bostonians have a safe, stable home is always our goal.”
In the state of New York, officials have suspended eviction proceedings indefinitely, according to a Sunday memo from Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks. The suspension will affect residential and commercial evictions according to Curbed. In New York City, a coalition of 29 landlords issued a statement on Friday pledging not to carry out eviction warrants for 90 days. These owners represent more than 150,000 rental units in the city and some of the firms typically don’t process evictions through housing courts, according to Curbed.
The state-wide suspensions in New York came after tenant advocates and elected officials slammed the state’s lack of moratorium, arguing that evictions in the midst of a public health crisis would accelerate homelessness and worsen the spread of COVID-19. Housing Justice for All — a coalition of tenants’ rights groups including Make the Road, New York Communities for Change and the Met Council on Housing — was one group that demanded an eviction moratorium from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals Janet DiFiore. Their petition garnered over 7,000 signatures in less than a day.
And in Portland, Oregon, officials planned to announce its own eviction moratorium in the name of “housing security,” according to a tweet from Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury.
Along with the advocates fighting to prevent evictions, other activists were also fighting to support an already vulnerable homeless population during the coronavirus crisis.
In Los Angeles, California, a group of homeless and housing insecure people known as Reclaiming Our Homes has reclaimed six vacant homes owned by the state of California in the El Sereno neighborhood. Occupying vacant housing has been a form of sustainability and protest for many groups impacted by homelessness.
Back in January, Moms 4 Housing — a group of homeless mothers in Oakland — fought to remain in a vacant home they had been occupying since November of last year. Although the mothers were eventually evicted from the home with some being arrested, their cause drew national attention and local support from organizers and activists. They continue their fight to occupy vacant homes and to curtail the housing crisis in their city, especially in the era of the coronavirus.
They issued a statement supporting the residents occupying vacant homes in Los Angeles:
“We are all being urged to stay home and practice social distancing – but how can you do that when your family is homeless? The state of California owns hundreds or potentially thousands of homes like these that have been left vacant during a housing crisis. Each one of these vacant homes must be used to house people who would otherwise be on the streets, at risk of both contracting and transmitting COVID-19.”
They ended, “This pandemic is highlighting the profound injustice of a society that says some people deserve a roof over their heads and some don’t. Housing, like health care, is a human right.”