HOUSING IN THE TIME OF VIRUS: SHELTER IS A RIGHT
By Piotr Orlov
March 25, 2020
Quarantined at home, we are all living in a new reality. And one especially frightening element of this reality to the non-employed/unemployed/under-employed amongst us, is how to hold onto the homes we are quarantined in — whether those be domiciles we’re renting, or have a mortgage on. (Mazel Tov to all you MFs who’ve paid yours off, have a significant other who owns, or are bunkered down in mom and dad’s basement.) In fact, among the many previously unthinkable conversations that the ‘Rona reality has brought to the fore in America’s no-social-net society, regards the meaning of “home.” Much like the word “socialist” spent the 20th and early 21st centuries as a kind of curse to the get-money free-marketeers all around us, but has suddenly began making some sense, the conversation about affordable shelter being a right, and which previously involved ideas deemed “impossible” and actions considered radical, don’t seem it anymore.
This was something that housing rights activists around the U.S. understood early on in the pandemic’s spread, and its economic impact on people living paycheck-to-paycheck. Rent Strike 2020 was founded under the simple idea that the quickest relief to working families would be to freeze payments on rent and utilities. Considering how radical a notion like this is, the idea of the rent strike has, relatively speaking, taken off like a wildfire, with petitions circulating throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Yet, maybe the idea is not so radical after all, since even the U.S. federal, state and local governments have all adopted rent-freezing or anti-eviction measures. As of March 24th, cities and states all over the U.S. have passed laws suspending evictions — some, like the state of New York, have done so under the auspices that evictions are non-priority cases in a court system that is, for all intents and purposes, operating for emergencies only. Even Tr*mp’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, run by that bumblef*ck Ben Carson, announced that it’s suspending all evictions and foreclosures until the end of April. The Federal Housing Finance Agency directed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, owners of the majority of private mortgages in the U.S., to do the same for a minimum of 60 days. So, maybe what was previously written-off as a hard solution simply needed an apocalyptic crisis to make people take notice. (Or maybe — I don’t know — it simply needed to affect the white working class before being acknowledged as a problem.)
More so, the Pandemic has shown that previously radical solutions for the homeless crisis really are solvable with basic measures, if the state simply wants to do so. For instance, the state of California, which has an enormous housing problem on its hands, has secured hotel rooms to get the homeless off the streets. And organizations like Reclaiming Our Homes are taking matters into their own hands by moving homeless people into houses that have long stood empty and unsold.
These are solutions are imperfect, non-permanent and yes, by free market standards, radical. But they are solutions to long-standing problems, and who TF has the invisible hand helped lately besides the 1%? Most importantly, let’s remember that the best aspects of social democracy that the United States of America has implemented throughout its history — be these independence, or the expansions of voting and civil rights, or a class safety net — have always take place when the loaded pistol of history has been pointed to its head. Maybe the universal right to shelter (and, Inshallah, to healthcare) will be part of this pandemic’s legacy.