[Excerpt from feature article by Thomas Breen, New Haven Independent, June 5, 2020]
Local and statewide tenant organizers are turning to a simple, if profound, solution for staving off a pending eviction, foreclosure, and homelessness crisis.
Their rallying cry? “Cancel the rent.”
Organizers with the Cancel Rent CT movement appeared Thursday on\ WNHH Radio’s “Pandemic Organizing” to talk about the urgent need they see for not just deferring, but outright forgiving renters’ debts for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.
They want Gov. Ned Lamont to cancel all rent and mortgage payments for April, May, June, and going forward until 45 days after the governor lifts the current state of emergency. And they want Lamont to extend the state’s current eviction moratorium beyond its current end date of July 1.
Shively said that they are calling for rent cancellation not because renters don’t want to pay, not because they have some vendetta against landlords, and not because tenants are “lazy” or “deadbeats.” “The reason we want to cancel rent is really simple,” he said. “It’s because people already can’t pay the rent.”
He quoted statistics he pulled from the state Department of Labor, the U.S. Census Bureau, and DataHaven.
He said over 500,000 individuals in Connecticut have successfully filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic in Connecticut in mid-March.
And before Covid-19, he said, over 50 percent of renters were “rent-burdened,” meaning that they spent over a third of their monthly income on rent. Before the pandemic, he continued, 60 percent of black families and 55 percent of Hispanic families were rent-burdened.
And between March 13 and May 19, 79 percent of Hispanic families, 64 percent of black families, and 40 percent of white families in Connecticut reported a loss of income.
“There is a racist disparity to who is most affected by this crisis,” he said.
Michtom said that cancelling rent is not just a good move from an ethical perspective, but also from a political, social, and economic one as well. “There’s a pretty good structural argument” for cancelling rent, he said. “Which is that, if you have a lot of evictions, than you end up with a lot of foreclosures. And if you have a lot of foreclosures, you end up with a lot of out-of-town speculators buying up properties.” Those out-of-town landlords aren’t always the most responsible and responsive in keeping up their properties, he said. “It is bad policy from a structural perspective to let communities go.” [....]