Austin: Housing Activists Confront City Manager Over Failed Rent Relief

By Michael Nolan

On June 10, members of the housing struggle organization United Neighborhood Defense Movement (UNDM) and tenants confronted Austin city manager Spencer Cronk outside of City Hall as the city council meeting concluded. The activists denounced Cronk for the city’s improperly managed rent relief programs that have failed to help tenants facing the continued threat of eviction resulting from the ongoing capitalist economic crisis.

Around 10 p.m., Cronk exited City Hall from a side door and was intercepted and confronted by UNDM activists and tenants, who began to heckle him and make their demands.

UNDM has called for the ruling class, both the State and the big corporations, to pay for the back rent that has accumulated since the start of the New Depression, removing the burden from tenants. Over $40 billion in federal funds have been earmarked for rent relief, but the bureaucratic and labyrinthine process to apply for this money has been forced onto tenants rather than landlords—and billions of dollars have gone unused due to the government’s mismanagement.

Cronk tried to placate activists as they surrounded him by saying that the council meeting had just approved “over 36 million in rental assistance.” In fact, the resolution was for $20 million for rent relief programs, and still forces tenants to apply for funds.

As he was fleeing to his car, activists denounced Cronk, pointing out how he makes “$400k a year doing nothing but lying to and deceiving the people.” One activist told Cronk, “We are sick of you screwing over working-class people of Austin. … We don’t want any more of this bunk rent assistance, we want an end to eviction for non-payment and we want you to waive the back rent!”

Earlier in the evening, while Cronk was at City Hall, UNDM gathered outside his house holding a banner reading, “It’s their crisis! We won’t pay!” as Cronk’s husband watched the action from the living-room window. One activist gave a speech where he listed UNDM’s main demands and promised they would return for another house protest if the demands were not met.

Outside city hall, a tenant from the Trio apartments in southeast Austin spoke with Tribune about the nightmares she still experiences from the three days she survived without electricity during February’s capitalist-caused disaster during the winter storm. She also spoke about the uncertainty of her housing and the capitalist ruling class’s indifference:

“I think they don’t really care about the working class. If they really cared about the working class they would have already done something,” the tenant said. “We [are] still receiving eviction notices from our landlords, and being threatened by our landlords that we need to move out ASAP. Where can we go? You know?”

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