Austin: The Rent Strike

Featured Image: Sealed Rent Drop Box in Southeast Austin

By Ed Dalton

As April begins, a surging number of workers in Austin will not be able to pay their rent. With the number of people recently laid off growing daily, the anti-eviction ordinance pushed by Austin City Council proves to be little more than an attempt at appeasement.

With Travis County Justice of the Peace Courts, which handle evictions, only operating on a limited basis and all eviction hearings postponed until at least May 8th, the anti-eviction order is merely a formality; the court simply cannot function, lacking enough staff to continue eviction hearings.

Nonetheless, the city predicts that even more workers will become homeless in the near future, funneling millions to turn closed hotels into “quarantine sites,” which are effectively low security prisons for the homeless population. Sites include the Crown Plaza off Interstate 35 and the Roadway Inn near Oltorf. Homeless sweeps have not stopped since Austin imposed its shelter-in-place order and state repression continues against those without homes. 

It has become imperative to organize your neighbors in support of the Rent Strike, even for those who still have jobs, many of their neighbors and friends do not, and consequently cannot pay rent.

While nonprofits encourage everyone who can to pay rent, and ask the city for handouts which they will control, the workers understand the fact that if no one pays, those who cannot pay have a stronger defense with the solidarity of their neighbors.

Various charities are seeking a financial boost on the backs of unemployed workers, increasing their own funding and paying their already comfortable staff. The state itself relies on such organizations to keep capitalism functioning as smoothly as possible and to calm the anger of the people so they do not rebel.

The anti-eviction ordinance does nothing to make up for lost wages: workers are merely given an extended deadline for payment. Bills do not decrease or stop accumulating, and the ordinance does nothing at all to prevent the often unaffordable and escalating late fees from burying working class tenants in extreme debt. This can only result in thousands without jobs being forced to pay several months of back rent and late fees in the near future, before the economy has recovered.

This is why the city fears a spike in unemployed workers being forced into homelessness; their only solution is a prison without trial in the form of forced quarantine.

The city is unable and unwilling to care for its population, especially for its poorest workers, while the rich, sworn enemies of the working class, will be of no help at all. Organizing the fight now around working class solidarity is critical to the interests of the people. The best-case scenario of two-weeks paid time off is a gross disappointment when the current economic crisis is expected to last much longer than two weeks.

Housing struggles continue outside of the system’s chaos. Organizations like Defend Our Hoodz (DOH), along with other non-affiliated groups, have promoted the Rent Strike among supporters and tenants to combat the state’s attempt to push the financial burden of the crisis onto the working class. According to DOH, their reach has expanded to include over a dozen apartment complexes where residents are being organized directly against class enemies in the form of their landlords.

Tenants and organizers have come together to form anti-eviction groups, which are prepared to  resist the inevitable and illegal evictions attempted after rent becomes delinquent. DOH representatives tell Tribune of the People that they are mobilizing to prevent lockouts, physically impede evictions, and move evicted families back into their homes by any means necessary.

Landlords, who cannot get a court order for eviction will likely still try to carry out evictions. These evictions are illegal, so self-defense can and must be employed, defending the community is justifiable even when evictions are legal. Various direct actions have already taken place across the city to enforce the Rent Strike, including sealing rent deposit boxes to prevent or postpone payment. 

Sealed rent drop box
Posters glued outside of drop boxes

If you have been threatened with eviction, reach out to Tribune of the People, and your information will be forwarded to advocates on the  ground: