'Cancel The Rent' Movement Gains Traction With Local Tenants and Activists With more than 30 million people having filed for unemployment in the last six weeks, activists are pushing for rent payments to be canceled to grant reprieve during the coronavirus pandemic.
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NPR logo 'Cancel The Rent' Movement Gains Traction With Local Tenants and Activists

'Cancel The Rent' Movement Gains Traction With Local Tenants and Activists

Graffiti calling for the cancelation of rent payments appeared on a bridge in D.C. Carmel Delshad/WAMU hide caption

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Carmel Delshad/WAMU

Friday is the first of the month, which means rent checks are due for millions of people around the country.

But with more than 30 million people having filed for unemployment in the last six weeks, activists are pushing for rent payments to be canceled to grant reprieve during the coronavirus pandemic.

State and local governments in the region have taken some steps to protect renters — for example, placing a moratorium on evictions and limiting or freezing rent increases in some jurisdictions. But activists are urging lawmakers to go a step further and forgive rent payments entirely during this period.

"None of the legislation so far touches on the core issue which is that we need to cancel rent because we can't pay. Anything short of that leaves thousands of people being evicted after the moratorium lifts," Stephanie Bastek, an organizer and board member for the D.C. Tenants Union, said Thursday on The Kojo Nnamdi Show. She added that activists want to see a "bailout for tenants."

The "Cancel the Rent" movement is gaining steam among activists around the country, including in this region. On Friday, people across Virginia will protest from their cars demanding rent forgiveness.

Evelin Urrutia, executive director of Tenants and Workers United, is organizing a caravan rally in Alexandria. She expects 60 to 80 cars to gather at their Mount Vernon Avenue office and drive through the neighborhood.

"We cannot pay right now. There's no jobs. There is no income," Urrutia says, "It's concerning, what is going to be happening after the pandemic. Families will end up with a big debt if we don't cancel rent."

Urrutia works largely with immigrants, some of whom are undocumented and do not qualify for state or federal aid during the pandemic.

Earlier this month, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) introduced legislation to cancel rent and mortgage payments until one calendar month after the national emergency declaration ends. Her bill would create a relief fund to cover lost payments for landlords. The bill, however, is not likely to pass.

On the local level, D.C., Maryland and Virginia have all temporarily halted evictions. The D.C. Council has also frozen rent hikes until 30 days after the public health emergency ends. The Montgomery County Council has limited rent increases to 2.6%.

Bastek, with the D.C. Tenants Union, says many renters are also organizing within their buildings to achieve rent forgiveness.

The tenants at one Alexandria apartment complex have organized a rent strike to urge their landlords to cancel payments and address safety and cleaning concerns. The property manager, Bell Partners, has said it will waive late fees and offer payment plans to residents impacted by the pandemic.

Montgomery County Council member Will Jawando, also appearing on The Kojo Nnamdi Show, said he knows some landlords in the county are making accommodations for their tenants.

"But we know that not everyone is," said Jawando, who introduced the bill capping rent hikes. "We need to help landlords, tenants and renters ... we need money at the federal and state level."

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