Activism

Rent Strike in the Mission Advocated by David Bowie Church Leader

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Via – Lysol Tony-Romeo,  David Bowie Church

Hi my name is Lysol Tony-Romeo, and I’m here to recruit you! To not pay rent this month. In addition to being the Revered of your local David Bowie Church I’m the master tenant of a house of 9 people in the Mission. With 6 of us out of work, we made the decision to withhold rent pursuant to the eviction moratorium at the beginning of April, and now on May 1st we are joining the local and national Rent Strike movement.

Why a rent strike now? The state and city moratoriums on evictions give us a unique opportunity to really make a statement: in this public health emergency we are prioritizing taking care of the community first. We’re in an unprecedented crisis with no end in sight. This shelter-in-place order has really highlighted what housing advocates have been saying for a while now: housing is health care! Now is a time to save your money and resources, because they might save your life. Time is also on our side: the longer this crisis goes, the more power we have.

Just how bad will things get? We’re currently at 28 million unemployment claims filed in the last 6 weeks. An estimated 9-14 million people have are eligible but have been unable to submit a claim, and another 45 million self employed/gig economy workers only became eligible to file Monday. We’re facing supply chain disruptions and medical supply shortages that could trigger massive inflation for food and other essentials. JP Morgan projects a 40% drop in GDP for the 2nd quarter of 2020, and the Fed says unemployment could reach 32% by the end of June.

So what can you do? If you’re don’t have enough savings to cover a prolonged period of unemployment, don’t pay rent. You’ve been given official sanction to take that initiative. Per the SF and CA all you need to do is send a letter providing written notice that you cannot pay rent within 30 days after the rent due date, and then within a week of providing that notice give documentation that you are being financially impacted by COVID-19. Local protections may vary, you can research your are via this link.

If you’re financially secure, withhold rent in solidarity with those of us who aren’t! Like any movement there is strength in numbers, and those who make the choice not to pay rent out of principle have better bargaining power than those who make the choice out of necessity. For my house, we sent our landlord an email with the moratorium orders and notices from employers attached.

Reverent Father Lysol Tony-Romeo at The Chapel.

What if I don’t want to add MORE fear and uncertainty to my current situation? I totally understand (and share!) that fear. May 1st is my 10 year anniversary of living in my home. It is the incubator for the creative projects of our housemates (we currently have drag queens, musicians, costume designers, jewelry and leather crafters) and were it not for my ability to make loud music in the garage until 10 pm once a week there would be no First Church of the Sacred Silversexual. In short, I would lose everything that gives my life meaning.

“I’ll be removed from my home if I’m evicted” is not necessarily true under normal circumstances, and definitely not now. The city’s mandate protects us. You’re in a more powerful position with that rent amount sitting in your checking account, and its not like you’re paying interest or late fees on unpaid rent. Your landlord is not hurt by you not paying, as California is in the midst of a 90 day mortgage payment relief program enacted by the Governor. Lack of rental income won’t get any landlords kicked out of their homes as they’re protected by the same order as tenants. The worst thing that can happen if you strike is you’ll be in the exact same situation you’re in right now. Nobody loses their housing if you don’t pay rent.

But what about my landlord? If you’ve got a shitty landlord, you can skip this portion. If you’ve got a good landlord, then their reaction to your letter will be sympathetic. There are landlords locally and nationally who are canceling rent. The drop to the bottom of the housing market may be a long one and if having rental income is their long term strategy their best bet is to work with you on this. Also, because they’re human beings, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic.

And if they push back? Then they’re likely showing their true colors. Being a “good landlord” in the Bay Area is: a) a really low bar and b) often just a tactic. Once you’ve seen their ugly side and where their priorities lie during these times, you’ll feel a lot less guilty. My landlord’s reaction has been somewhere in the middle. He’s been understanding but you can tell the inability to threaten us with anything has him on his best behavior. If someone in our house becomes ill, we will have resources to pool together to make sure they’re taken care of, which is more important than rent.

How do I phrase my letter? There are templates available, but all you need to say is that due to the SIP it is “impossible to pay rent.” You’re simply stating a fact. Don’t make promises about future payment amounts or dates, anything based on projections, because its unrealistic to think that we can predict just what the months ahead of us have in store.

The city moratorium sets the terms for a negotiation, but do not feel pressured to negotiate. The landlord is free to send back a payment plan, but that will be based on projections as well. Just tell them that you will discuss terms when you return to work. Not when the SIP is lifted, but once the situation for you changes in terms of income. This all fits within the Mayor’s order. There’s no need to be adversarial, because this isn’t a retaliation: it is what it is.

 

Send your landlord the letter explaining why you’re rent striking, send links to the moratorium order and the mortgage relief program for the landlord, let them know that their financial position is improved by petitioning with renters for rent and mortgage forgiveness. This is about us working together, not about the ability to pay. Tenants Rights advocates and politicians are organizing to press for rent and mortgage forgiveness. Mutual aid groups are popping up all over the Bay Area. We can get through this together. Remember: nobody loses their housing if you don’t pay rent.

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2 Comments

  1. B A BLUEMEANIE
    April 30, 2020 at 2:14 pm — Reply

    Sorry, Rev. I have supported all calls for focused rent strikes in my 77 years. I know lot of groups are calling for it. This crises provides us with a huge magnifying glass to examine the system. We now have a momentous opportunity to reimagine and create the one we want. Now I believe a call for a general rent strike is harmful to many owners who will lose their basic income because of the idea. I think a better way is for The City to guarantee loans to owners who can prove immediate loss of income. The loans are paid back when the tenants pay their rent. Relief for all, not a few. I think calling for Universal Basic Income would be better. It’s moves us forward toward A Green New Deal.

  2. Kathleen
    May 1, 2020 at 5:51 pm — Reply

    How do you know “nobody loses housing if you don’t pay rent?” Perhaps the property owner uses their own personal property as collateral on an apartment building. If the tenants don’t pay rent, landlord defaults on loan, and bank is now allowed to take the collateral, hence the landlords personal property. Isn’t that a possibility?

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