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© Illustration courtesy of Met Council on Housing


Trying to Save Your Rent

by Cea Weaver
April 21, 2020

This interview with Cea Weaver, the campaign coordinator for Housing Justice for All, which is organizing to cancel rent during the coronavirus outbreak, was conducted and condensed by franknews.

What is the goal of the rent strike?

We want the government to suspend our obligation to pay rent for four months. That means you don't pay now, and you don't have to pay later. While an eviction moratorium (which we have won in New York) is useful during this crisis, we need to prepare for when we emerge from this.

We need both an eviction moratorium, and a cancellation of our obligation to pay rent.

What’s this look like practically? You mentioned before it includes the government paying financial services to owners or landlords.

The goal is to facilitate housing units into social housing; we want to facilitate expanding housing that is captured by a stronger regulatory system than currently exists. We have something in New York called Third Party Transfer that we want to use as a model.

It works like this: say you are my landlord, I am your tenant. The idea is that I don't have to pay you, the landlord, rent anymore because the government suspended our obligation to pay it back. The government is going to give you money as part of a recovery package to make up for that loss. When the government gives you money, the idea is that it comes with strings attached. For example, you have to give me rent control going forward. Does that make sense?


So the first priority is that we don't want anyone to have to pay rent for four months.

The second piece of our approach is that we want the recovery to include a payout to landlords to recover what they have lost during this period, but that payout is going to come with stipulations.

Who do you need to put pressure on to make this happen?

It's a combination of the state, so Cuomo, and the federal government. The money to be able to do something like this, and the constitutionality to, comes at the federal level. 

Do you know what that total looks like in dollars?

It’s trillions of dollars, nationally.

By our estimate, to stably house everyone in New York, where they currently live would cost $10 million a year. But when we look at moving people without homes into housing, and consider the costs of building new housing, then we are looking at trillions of dollars. 

Where are you in the process? What do your days look like, and how can others participate?

Right now we're trying to put political pressure on the governor to cancel our obligation to pay rent. That is the immediate demand. 

Then there are all the other questions. How do we recover from this? How do we recover in a way that acknowledges landlords need support? The next federal stimulus package is supposed to come towards the end of April, I believe. We're trying to stop the bleeding by cancelling the rent obligation right now, and then influence the amount of money coming into New York State, and influence the way Cuomo is going to spend that money. We can create a political and economic crisis that will force the governor to act – it’s up and running right now.

What do you say to people who can pay their rent, or who can’t but are afraid of repercussions?

Millions of people aren't paying their rent anyway, we have to find a way to do that together.

Either you are not paying your rent alone or you are not paying your rent with people.

The act of not paying your rent with people is better than not paying your rent alone, and that's just the reality we have to acknowledge. 

The only way that sustains is if we get people who can pay and people who can't pay joining together. We're trying to create a political crisis for the industry at large, not an individual crisis for your landlord. That makes it a little bit different than your typical rent strike, which would be very much you versus your landlord. It is more like mass civil disobedience than it is like your traditional rent strike. We are refusing to participate in the system.

How are you organizing people? 

We put together a rent strike toolkit to facilitate the conversation.

The fact that evictions are on pause for 90 days gives us the ability to experiment in a way that we haven't before. Your landlord can't evict you now, and if they try to collect your rent in 90 days and you have it, they can't evict you then either. There is no rush to pay your rent. Standing in solidarity with your neighbors is the right thing to do.