With more than 160,000 known cases and 3,400 deaths in the United States estimated as of today, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has already resulted in the unexpected closure of countless museums, restaurants, bars, schools, and other establishments integral to the country’s economic growth. A record 3.3 million people have already filed for unemployment within the last few weeks with many more expected on the way, leaving the subject of housing as one of the most pressing issues among city and state officials.
During this crisis, I know many Angelenos are worried about paying rent. If you’re able to pay, you should continue to do so. But for those of you that aren’t able to pay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your City has your back. No one should be evicted because of this emergency. pic.twitter.com/d9ilKc1Be4
— Mayor Eric Garcetti (@MayorOfLA) March 29, 2020
Within the last week, prior to the April 1 deadline at which most rent and mortgage checks are expected under normal conditions (aka today), state officials have independently announced eviction moratoriums with varying term dates. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo released an executive order on March 7 that includes a 90-day eviction moratorium, while California Governor Gavin Newsom, at the helm of the most populous state in the country with over 40 million residents, released a similar order that prevents residential evictions for two months to those who have been laid off due to the pandemic. “For tenants, there will be no eviction proceedings; there will be no enforcement as it relates to pay for COVID-19,” said Newsom, according to the Los Angeles Times. Renters in both states will, however, have to make up the rent they owe after their respective moratorium periods, and rent payments are expected of those who do not provide written testimony that they are unable to pay them (The Hill reports, meanwhile, that New York state lawmakers are working on a rent suspension bill that is currently in committee but will likely be held up by Governor Cuomo).
While many might be relieved to learn they can stave off eviction until they find the necessary funds, affordable housing leaders feel the measures are minimal and shortsighted. “I think we’re deeply disappointed that it isn’t just a blanket moratorium on evictions,” said Francisco Dueñas of the California-based advocacy group Housing Now. Residents of major American cities have called upon government officials to institute rent freezes and other initiatives to stave off the financial hardships being felt across the country. Over 15,000 Chicagoans, for example, have signed an online petition spearheaded by a tenants union that includes a city-wide freeze on rent, utility payments, and mortgages, according to The Chicago Tribune. More than 82,000 residents of New York City have signed a similar petition seeking to ensure that “every New Yorker is safely housed.”
At a time when housing security has never been more important to obtain, a unified message of dissatisfaction is likely to become amplified over the coming weeks as millions of renters make the difficult choice between pouring into their savings, writing pleas to their landlords, and participating in a burgeoning nation-wide strike (made visible through the growing #RentStrike hashtag on Twitter).
— Chelsea Chamberlain (@cdchambs) March 26, 2020
The delayed governmental reaction to the pandemic felt among renters is shared among homeless Americans, some of whom have already taken the matter into their own hands. Homeless families in Los Angeles, for instance, have seized vacant homes owned by the city to protect themselves against the health crisis during the shelter in place order.