By the Editorial Board
On Tuesday, imperialist president Joe Biden rushed to issue a partial moratorium on evictions that fails to protect renters facing potential eviction due to the impact of the current economic crisis as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. The new ban came after a previous moratorium in place since last September ended on July 31, with politicians pointing fingers at each other for the failure to plan for its expiration. As the government stumbles on evictions yet again, renters across the country should unite to confront threats to their homes by organizing and fighting back against the capitalist State’s management of housing.
Issued through the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), Biden’s new order extends an eviction ban for 60 days until October 3, but only covers counties that the CDC determines are “experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission” of COVID-19. The Delta variant has increased infection rates in recent weeks, and according to the CDC, around 80 percent of counties in the US would be covered by the renewed ban. However, numerous counties and jurisdictions do not meet the CDC’s criteria, and with the fluctuating rates of COVID infections, there is no guarantee a county will be covered by the ban throughout the next two months.
Politicians Pass the Blame
The lead-up to the insufficient eviction ban was characterized by a frenzied blame game among Democratic politicians. Biden said that the Supreme Court prevented him from taking action and urged Congress to pass legislation, while Congress complained of Biden’s short notice. Other politicians engaged in acts of political theater—Cori Bush, a House representative from Missouri, slept on the steps of the US Congress. Bush is a member of the so-called ‘Squad,’ a group of social-democrats which includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who credited themselves for pushing Biden to enact the new moratorium. Both Biden and ‘the Squad’ are little more than opportunists who use populist smokescreens to obscure the fact that they uphold and are a part of the same capitalist system of private ownership which drives evictions to begin with.
The housing instability that the people face is an inherent feature of capitalism, not some anomaly, and it will not be resolved by the reactionary State which serves this system, no matter who is in office. Capitalism’s anarchic system of production and exchange means our economy is not planned, and important needs like housing are not constructed or managed based on societal need, but in pursuit of profit. Private ownership, which allows individuals and corporations to profit off of basic necessities like housing, must be swept away. The people must fight to defend their homes and neighbors with this ultimate goal in mind, not to serve the political careers of performative populists.
While capitalist politicians were arguing with each other, evictions for non-payment had already begun to ramp up. According to the Aspen Institute, an estimated 15 million renters across the country could face eviction once all protections are lifted. The federal government has set aside $46 billion for rent relief, but so far, only an estimated $3 billion of the federal funds have been distributed, with much of it languishing in government and non-governmental organization (NGO) coffers.
The patchwork of rent relief programs is mired in bureaucracy and inefficiency, and many tenants aren’t even aware of the programs’ existence. The burden of applying to the programs rests mainly on renters rather than the landlords who will ultimately receive the money.
United Neighborhood Defense Movement (UNDM), a national housing struggle organization, has called for the government to deal with landlords directly rather than force tenants into the poorly managed application processes. The rational approach is to cancel the rent debt for tenants, without affecting renters’ records—landlords could then appeal to the government for compensation. However, the State would rather burden workers and the poor, threatening them with further instability. More combative action from activists and tenants will be the most effective way to push the State to do more to address the crisis and win concessions for tenants.
In January of this year, groups such as Kansas City Tenants held what they called ‘Zero Eviction January.’ On days when eviction courts were scheduled to open, activists chained courthouse doors and flooded online-based eviction hearings, effectively preventing hundreds of potential evictions and forcing the county judge to suspend hearings that month. UNDM has held protests outside of the homes of city officials in Austin and Pittsburgh, bringing their demands for a complete ban on non-payment evictions during the economic crisis and for all back rent to be forgiven directly to the inept politicians and bureaucrats. Direct eviction defense, militantly defying the attempts of sheriffs and police to forcibly remove tenants, must be a regular weapon in the arsenal of tenants and organizers, as well as moving evicted tenants and their belongings back into their homes.
The inability of the capitalist ruling class to provide adequate and accessible housing for workers will only be exacerbated by current trends in the housing market. In recent years, the private rental market has seen further consolidation into fewer and fewer hands under finance monopolies, who are purchasing homes that have fallen into foreclosure, a process which accelerated following the 2008 recession. The current crisis is also putting more pressure on smaller property owners, who will look to sell off properties to larger private investors.
According to monopoly media outlet CNN, “Investors represented a quarter of all homes sold in the US during the first three months of this year.” This includes individual investors, but, prominently, finance capital monopolies such as Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, and JP Morgan Chase are all increasing their shares of the housing rental market. The concentration of rental properties in the hands of large monopolies will most likely lead to higher rents and less attentive property management, but also represents the opportunity for more renters who share a common enemy to unite against these massive companies with combative protest.
No Option but to Fight
Since the beginning of the current economic crisis, i.e., the New Depression, at the tail end of 2019, millions of tenants have accumulated debt, unable to pay rent due to the loss of work and reduced wages, exacerbated by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the current crisis, workers with long-stagnant incomes struggled to meet rising rents across the country. Now, as the government keeps kicking the can down the road without a clear plan, we are coming face-to-face with the real possibility of mass evictions as landlords demand compensation. There is no other option but to organize and fight, whether to confront opportunist politicians or to mobilize against violent evictions carried out by the State’s armed forces. Waiting until the end of Biden’s partial ban is not an option while the people are already, and increasingly, facing homelessness and massive disruptions to their lives.
Apart from the politicians’ excuses and negligence, under capitalism, the ruling class has no intention or ability to resolve the housing crisis that affects the people, especially the working class. Imperialist politicians, from Biden to ‘the Squad,’ will not address the root of the problem: private ownership under capitalism, which is fundamentally antagonistic towards the needs of the people. This contradiction can only be resolved through socialist revolution and a society where the production and distribution of housing and other necessities are managed by workers. The people can advance towards this necessary revolution by militantly fighting for their daily needs, whether it is for higher wages, better health care, or roofs over their heads.
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