Eviction Moratoriums and What They Mean for the Housing Struggle

By David Martinez

Since the start of the New Depression, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many landlords in the US have stopped collecting rent and evicting people from their homes. This would be unthinkable in times of ‘normal’ capitalist society, which threatens the people with homelessness at the first sign of unpaid rent. Now, with the passing of a federal ban on evictions that affects all rental properties, the imperialist ruling class shows how afraid it is of the inevitable resistance to mass evictions that will come when landlords and the capitalist economy can’t put off collecting any longer.

Imperialism is willing to take this temporary hit only because it can dip into the super profits it reaps from its exploitation of the oppressed nations. US imperialists are siphoning off these super profits into the hands of the landlords, who are mainly part of the petty bourgeois and can be bought off, but imperialists will not sustain this arrangement indefinitely and will eventually allow evictions to resume.

The crisis itself has actually not stopped rent collection or evictions in the US, only slowed it. Whether legally or illegally, many landlords have evicted people or threatened them with eviction for failing to pay rent. But the majority of states and municipalities accepted the reality in the wake of the imperialist crisis that the mass layoffs and lower spending ability meant that there was literally no money to pay rent, and formalized the mass non-payment of rent into eviction moratorium policies. The state is gambling that they can postpone mass outrage at the inevitable widespread evictions.

Up until September, eviction moratoriums were done at the state and city level, along with a federal moratorium on evictions nationally on all properties with federally-backed mortgages, known as the CARES act, which expired in July. The CARES act covered around 12.3 million properties, representing only about a third of US renters. As the mix of eviction bans expired at the end of the summer, eviction filings have almost returned to their normal levels, and stories of brutal evictions of workers and their families have followed. Even with eviction bans in place, many workers are left confused and overwhelmed by a bureaucracy that only serves landlords, and feel they have no choice but to leave even when they may have the legal ability to remain.

Most recently, in early September, the Trump administration, via the Center for Disease Control (CDC), announced a sweeping ban on evictions in all rental properties across the country, citing it as a health necessity, based on the CDC’s purview to fight disease outbreaks. This new order, in theory, protects around 40 million renters nationwide and would extend through the end of the year until December 31, 2020. Landlords are ordered not to carry out evictions, but still have means to evict based on alleged criminal activity, violations of the lease (other than non-payment or late payment of rent), and other legal loopholes.

The federal eviction ban is a drastic move, but as with all ruling class gestures, it is inadequate, disingenuous, and only shows their fear of mass organizing and rebellion. As with any of the moratoriums, it is nothing more than a ticking time bomb, and revolutionaries and progressive organizers should use the time to prepare and organize the people against inevitable evictions and their reactionary state violence. Evictions will leave workers and vulnerable people fleeing to double-up in a family member or friend’s home, or being pushed out on onto the streets. It will help to decimate working class neighborhoods, weaken community ties, and will further destabilize the workers who bear the brunt of the economic and health crisis.

The moratoriums are all false promises. None of the policies have canceled rent entirely, and the debts continue to pile up. Landlords can still add up late fees and collect full rent following the ban’s expiration.

The new federal order in particular rests on locking renters into legal strait jackets. It requires all renters to sign a legal declaration that they acknowledge that “my housing provider may require payment in full for all payments not made prior to and during the temporary halt and failure to pay may make me subject to eviction pursuant to State and local laws,” therefore agreeing to pay back all accrued debts. Renters must also agree to pay whatever they “reasonably can” during the time of the eviction ban, and if they do not try, this nullifies the agreement as well. This makes the order even more insidious and puts workers and the poor into an impossible position, forcing them to agree to pay back money they will not be able to make up.

If tenants refuse to sign this absurd agreement, they will not receive protection from the order and landlords are not obligated to observe the eviction ban. It’s a bureaucratic maneuver to give cover to landlords when they do push an eviction.

Landlords have complained that the program doesn’t solve the issue of getting their cut of the workers’ wages in the form of rent. In response, many cities and states have instituted so-called ‘Rent Relief’ programs which are in truth ‘landlord relief,’ directing millions of dollars directly to their pockets while working families struggle. In Pittsburgh, out of 5,000 applicants to their local program, only 33 received aid. The ‘rent relief’ does not solve the workers’ lack of income, who will still be in debt and strained for resources to feed and maintain themselves whether their landlord gets a bailout or not.

The May Uprisings showed that the people are primed and ready to rebel, simmering in the degradations of the economic crisis which threatens every aspect of their lives, and the coronavirus pandemic which has placed even more pressure on imperialism’s decaying society. During these times, each blow against the people, whether from the police or landlords, has the potential to ignite them into rebellion.

The people must not wait for mass evictions to come before organizing against them. Workers and revolutionaries must understand that their strength lies in their numbers and their willingness to fight. Tenants must come together with other tenants, led by revolutionary ideas and strategies, and get better organized in order to be able to withstand evictions, which must be seen as battle skirmishes with the ruling class enforcers.

Whether during an economic depression, a pandemic, or neither, the capitalists are compelled to extract everything they can from the working class – paying them less than the value of what they produce and skimming more every month when its time to collect rent. The defense of workers’ homes is fertile ground to unite in struggle and raise the political consciousness and fighting capacity of the people. The economic crisis has the ruling class making concessions such as the eviction moratoriums to stave off further discontent and uprisings, but this temporary breathing room cannot be used as an excuse to be lulled into complacency and be caught off guard when the constable comes knocking at workers’ doors and attempts to throw people into the streets. When they try to collect rent and pry the people from their homes, the people must defy and challenge each attempt!

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