Disclaimer: The text has been translated from german with the help of an automatic translation system (deepl.com). Citations that were originally in english and then translated into german have been translated back to english and were not verified with the sources.
In the USA, one of the largest rental strikes in the history of the country is currently being prepared. Massive loss of earnings due to the Corona crisis has led to many tenants simply no longer being able to pay their rent. 15 % of US tenants have paid their April rent more than 5 days late, another 16 % have not paid at all (as of April 12). That is a total of 13.4 million of the 43.2 million tenants. For comparison: In April 2019, 8% paid late and 10% did not pay at all. And since the end of the first week of April, 26 million US citizens have become unemployed. Due to the lack of social security systems, it is common for millions of US tenants that a single personal setback such as unemployment or illness may result in homelessness.At present, groups active in housing and rent policy are organizing at least 71 local rent strikes across the country for the soon to be due May rent. On the website of the New York rent strike campaign „May Day: Can’t pay? Won’t pay!“ 5000 people have announced that they will not pay the May rent – due to lack of money or in solidarity with other strikers.
Demands of the campaign Can’t pay? Won’t pay
- Waiver of rent for four months or for the duration of the public health crisis, whichever is longer.
- Rent Freeze and the right for every tenant in New York to extend their lease. No rent should be increased during the pandemic.
- We are reclaiming our homes. All New York homeless people must be urgently and permanently housed.
- Investment in public and social housing throughout our state.
The slogan, „Can’t pay? Won’t pay!“ aims to turn collective insolvency into strike, individual guilt into collective resistance. Cea Weaver, coordinator of the New York campaign „Housing Justice For All“, puts it this way in an interview with Natasha Lennard of The Intercept: „Do you want to do this alone? Or do you want to do it together with a movement of people who are also in your situation and are calling for a profound political transformation? It’s better if we do it together.“Even before the campaign was launched, self-organized groups and a few legislators demanded a temporary suspension of the rent. Over 90,000 New Yorkers signed a petition to this effect. The New York state government’s response was a moratorium on evictions, now extended until 20 June – but without a rent waiver. But this only delays the problem. Despite the moratorium, rent debts are accumulating. When the moratorium expires, the millions of tenants who have lost their incomes due to the crisis are still threatened with eviction and homelessness.“There will be some kind of government intervention. But we have to make sure that the government’s intervention is on our terms. We are escalating the conflict towards a collective refusal to pay rent in order to force a turnaround,“ says Cea Weaver.
The Philadelphia Tenants Union expresses a similar view in its „COVID-19 Organizing Guide“, but draws somewhat less euphoric conclusions: „Looking ahead, we are faced with mass evictions and continued unemployment once the immediate threat of COVID-19 is over. The state will intervene, as it has already done, but it will most likely save the landlords and the housing market rather than the tenants. To have a chance in the fight with the state, tenants must be organized on a scale that is not currently available. The handbook also says: „Given the urgency of the situation, it is tempting to take shortcuts: act only in your own immediate vicinity, or try to negotiate individually with the landlord, or collect as many signatures as possible for a petition without thorough discussions, or try to organize everything on your own, or push for drastic actions and demands that others do not want to join. But [there are] no shortcuts. Building a strong, lasting organization among the tenants […] leads to the most successful and lasting results. It takes time to apply our strategies described here.“
In Canada, there will be a rent strike on May 1, as in April, here under the slogan: „May Day: Keep Your Rent“. Many have lost their jobs and do not know how to pay the high rents. Already in April, only 75 percent of rental households in Canada were able to pay their full rent, and 15 percent of households were not able to pay at all. Experts expect this figure to rise in May and June. The situation spurs tenants towards the question: food or rent. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program is criticized for granting rent reductions to the economy but not to private tenants, e.g. airports won’t pay any rent and commercial tenants will pay up to 75 percent less. Government officials have repeatedly stated that evictions are currently suspended, but landlords are said to put massive pressure on tenants with illegal evictions, harassment and intimidation to collect rent. But the monthly $2,000 CERB hardly covers the rent in cities like Toronto and Ottawa. The tenants need money for food, medicine and other basic needs. Without a rent subsidy, the CERB only fills the pockets of the landlords, according to the criticism of the tenants. They organize a comprehensive neighborhood assistance program with information and practical support.
Demands of the Keep Your Rent campaign
- Total suspension of rent during the Covid-19 pandemic
- Funds from the CERB fully retained for food, medicine (corona) and other basic needs
As tenants we declare our solidarity with tenants in the USA and Canada who are threatened by eviction and homelessness. We are aware of the lack of legal protection for tenants and we see that the crisis will lead to fatal consequences if there are no rent reduction or substantial rent cuts. As Akelius tenants we know that Akelius takes every opportunity to increase the rent as much as possible, without consideration for tenants, without consideration for neighborhoods and districts, without consideration for the people who live in a city. As Akelius tenants in Berlin we have been threatened by a turbo-capitalist business model for years:
- Delayed maintenance
- extreme rent increases
- Conversion of commercial properties into apartments with extremely high rents
- Waste of resources through luxury modernization
- Terminations for the slightest reason
We are therefore permanently challenged to defend our houses and apartments with all available legal and political means. Added to this are the systemic effects: Akelius is systematically moving affordable housing into the high-price segment. This means rent increases of 300-400 percent with only one tenancy change: Sooner or later no one in the neighbourhood will be able to move – because every flat that becomes available suddenly costs three to four times as much. Akelius‘ business model is called gentrification.
Even now, during the Corona crisis, Akelius in Berlin is trying to put pressure on tenants who want to take advantage of the legal regulation to defer rent until June 2020. The company is demanding that tenants who cannot pay a monthly rent pay the outstanding rent already during the following month. This is directly contradicts legal regulations. The law stipulates that the rent for April, May and June can be deferred upon application. The full rent must be paid by the tenant by June 30, 2022 at the latest.
The legal and regulatory tenant protection is even less comprehensive in the USA than in Germany. Akelius uses every possibility to get rid of tenants who have leases with affordable rents. The lower the legal protection, the more pressure the company puts on tenants and the faster the threat of eviction and homelessness. In Boston, USA, the fluctuation in Akelius houses (proportion of tenants moving out) is around 30 percent per year (Akelius in Berlin: 9 percent, Berlin average: 5 percent). It is easy to imagine that Akelius will use the crisis to get rid of tenants who pay affordable rents – in Berlin as well as in Boston, New York City, Washington D.C., Toronto, Montréal, London, Paris etc.
That is why we, the Akelius tenants in Berlin, are in solidarity with the tenants in the USA and Canada, who are currently under particular pressure. We are in solidarity with the rent strike for a rent reduction due to the crisis, for permanent rent reductions and for affordable housing for all and support the demands of the tenants in the USA and Canada, which we also demand for Berlin [Link to demands].
Further information and sources
Housing Justice For All Alliance
Cea Weaver (Housing Justice For All, New York):
Mietstreik-Kampagne „May Day: Can’t pay? Won’t pay!”: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/mayday-cantpay
Philadelphia Tenants Union’s COVID-19 Organizing Guide: https://docs.google.com/document/d/16s-CHN29u01j3VdGJGOehhYliqeCAH9ux0yE9yCVujI/edit#
„Keep Your Rent“ https://keepyourrent.com/
Initiative „Parkdale Organize http://parkdaleorganize.ca/
Federation of Metro Tenant‘ Association (FMTA) https://www.torontotenants.org/