News Roundup

  • Following Rent Strikes, Policymakers and Advocates Explore Next Steps for Tenant Relief

    Following last week’s rent strikes across the country, decisionmakers are considering what the policy outcomes of tenant organizing during the pandemic could look like. Last month, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) introduced a bill that would cancel rent, transfer mortgages to the federal government, and allow landlords to regain rent costs if they agree to a new regulatory program that includes a rent freeze and no back payments. This week, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced a bill that would provide $100 billion in emergency rental assistance, and Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) recently proposed that the Emergency Solutions Grants program distribute $100 billion in short-term rent and utilities payment assistance to low-income households. As lawmakers and advocates explore paths forward, some supporters of rent strikes say that rental assistance proposals are not counter to their goals. “Our members have been approaching it as ‘yes and’.… The only way it seems to get the relief that all our members would need would be through canceling rent. If there is any [direct] relief they would prefer it goes to basic necessities, instead of going to rent,” said Ariana Feldman, communications organizer for Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  • Ignoring CDC Recommendations, Some Cities Continue to Clear Homeless Encampments

    City governments in Seattle, Washington, and Saint Louis, Missouri, are under scrutiny for clearing some homeless encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discourages encampment sweeps unless individual housing units are readily available for displaced people. Seattle swept an encampment in the Ballard neighborhood on Monday, and only 15 of the encampment’s 40 regular residents were present for the sweep, raising concerns that the removal further spread out vulnerable people. In Saint Louis, a federal judge authorized the city to clear a homeless encampment because of COVID-19 transmission concerns, despite the request to block the action from a homeless resident named Ranata Frank. Tim Huffman, a professor at Saint Louis University, says Saint Louis’s shelter capacity is 515 beds, and demand is “roughly twice that number.” Advocates say Huffman’s estimate demonstrates the city cannot provide adequate shelter for encampment residents.

  • New Jersey Clarifies “Lockout Protections” Include People Who Live in Hotels, Motels

    State officials recently clarified that New Jersey’s ban on evicting tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic extends to people who live in hotels and motels on a “continual basis.” However, the order does not protect guests considered “transient.” Although the state’s clarification explicitly extends protections to some hotel residents, Connie Pascale, a retired housing lawyer for Legal Services of New Jersey, said the state needs clearer definitions of who qualifies as a transient guest. Jose Ortiz, deputy director for Essex Newark Legal Services, is concerned that hotel owners are not complying with protections, and the vulnerable status of many people living in hotels may make it difficult for residents to access legal services. “A lot of the families who are living in the hotels and motels are essential workers.… They are trying to survive, they are trying to continue, some may be undocumented,” Ortiz said.  

  • A Colorado Retirement Community Shelters in Place alongside Active Fracking Site

    A retirement community in Broomfield, Colorado, whose battle against a neighboring fracking site intensified after the state deemed fracking a critical business during the COVID-19 pandemic, has saddled residents with the choice to stay in their homes and face emissions exposure or leave and face an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Since November 2019, more than 200 Broomfield residents submitted health complaints to the city, citing the oil and gas activity as the cause of headaches, burning eyes, and nosebleeds. The fracking site is currently in one of the most chemical-intensive stages of extraction, flowback, which releases elevated levels of benzene, a known carcinogen. Residents of the retirement community are particularly vulnerable to fracking emissions not only because of their age but also because of the prevalence of preexisting pulmonary and cardiac conditions that can be exacerbated by airborne pollutants. These same conditions make residents high risk if they contract COVID-19. Many residents of the retirement community don’t feel it is safe to attempt to relocate during the pandemic, though feel their health is in jeopardy if they chose to shelter in place in Broomfield.