The Democrats treated renters like a forgotten class project that’s suddenly due
We needed direct, red tape-free interventions that the Democrats consistently refuse to fight for
Today Miles Howard catches us up on the abject failure of the Democrats to do anything to help renters as the eviction moratorium comes to an ignominious end.
The Democrats treated renters like a forgotten class project that’s suddenly due
by Miles Howard
The federal eviction moratorium that kept millions of Americans housed during the pandemic is dead. As many as 15 million people are now at risk of losing their homes—just in time for the current surge of the Covid-19 Delta variant that’s bringing back masking and social distancing.
Originally set to expire at the end of June, the eviction moratorium was extended through July by the CDC. One of the lawsuits brought against the moratorium by landlords made it to the Supreme Court, which allowed the CDC’s extension to stand. But the ruling came with a disclaimer from Brett Kavanaugh that future extensions would have to be greenlit by Congress.
Given that housing is one of the most fundamental things that people need to survive during any normal year—let alone one in which 613,000 million Americans and counting have died from a deadly virus—one might reasonably assume that Democratic party leaders in the White House and Congress would want to prevent a mid-pandemic eviction blowout. The pandemic is not over, and the Democrats narrowly won the 2020 elections by promising a “just” pandemic recovery that would address festering inequities like the dystopian cost of rent prices in American cities and the lack of rights, protections, and subsidies that renters receive compared to homeowners.
But the Democratic party leaders had other ideas. Since March, when Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, the Democrats’ plan has been selectively and partially bailing out renters. $47 billion in federal relief money was distributed to states for disbursement to renters who could prove that they had suffered economic setbacks as a result of the pandemic. The trouble is that most of this means-tested rent relief money is still sitting in state coffers, waiting to be released. The administrative burden of proving losses due to the pandemic has been a hurdle for applicants, and states haven’t acted with urgency. In New York, 150,000 applications remain in limbo and the rent relief rollout has been so sluggish that Chuck Schumer had to chew out Andrew Cuomo at a recent press event. Cuomo responded by releasing a new application.
By late July, only $3 billion of the $47 billion relief money stockpile had been sent out to renters. This was after months of national reporting on the rent relief bottlenecks. The Democrats’ eviction prevention plan has been failing in slow motion, in broad daylight. Last Thursday, after weeks of silence from the White House, Biden finally asked Congress to extend the eviction moratorium, barely 48 hours before its expiration. This was extremely unlikely to happen, considering that the Democrats can’t even get their Congressional caucus to support a watered-down infrastructure bill. According to representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush—the latter of whom has actually experienced eviction and being unhoused—Biden’s eleventh hour plea to extend the moratorium was scuttled by moderate House Democrats who weren’t about to let a potential eviction earthquake cut into their weeks-long August vacation.
So the eviction moratorium lapsed at midnight this past Saturday.
Since then, Bush has been speaking and sleeping outside of the U.S. Capitol, in protest of her colleagues’ abdication. Per her latest account, thousands of evictions are already happening.
Once again, the question is, how did we get here? The eviction storm that renters now face was one of the most predictable and preventable crises within the scope of the pandemic. It could have been tackled with more direct and recurrent cash payments -- like the proposed $2,000 monthly checks which have pretty much been forgotten -- or a rent freeze, which was barely even entertained in the U.S. Renters have been among the most vulnerable and overlooked demographics riding out the pandemic. Covid-19 has ripped through overcrowded housing—a symptom of America’s exorbitant rent prices—and the result has been more infections and deaths in poor working class communities where people tend to rent. American renters have accrued tens of billions in back rent debt since the beginning of Covid. They've lost jobs. Some were forced to leave their jobs to take care of their kids during the earlier school closures.
Meanwhile the landlords have lurked in the wings, waiting to evict, and often refusing to accept federal rent relief. Many of them even issued eviction filings while the moratorium was in place.
Now with the moratorium dead on the Democrats’ watch it’s open season on renters, and the party leadership has no one to blame but itself. But this hasn’t stopped Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Steny Hoyer from trying to pass the buck. Biden’s hail-mary entreaty to Congress was an act of desperation, after weeks of ignoring the rent relief holdups and the impending moratorium lapse. When Pelosi and Hoyer failed to whip their House majority into voting for a moratorium extension, they issued a statement blaming Republicans—the House minority—for tanking the effort. (Pelosi later called on the CDC to re-extend the moratorium, despite the SCOTUS threat.)
Over the course of this wretched weekend, the Democratic party leadership treated renters like a forgotten class project that’s suddenly due. But that’s essentially what renters are to America’s politicians: a neglected project. Part of the issue lies in who occupies public office. Roughly 35% of Americans rent their housing from property owners. But you won’t encounter many renters in Congressional office, not even in state government. Most politicians are homeowners, and those who have rented in the past rarely talk about it. When they do, it’s almost always part of a self-congratulatory story about how they “escaped” the indignities of renting by buying a house.
In Boston, the very expensive city where I rent, a mayoral primary election is underway. The five Democratic candidates have offered up the typical vision board of ideas for expanding home ownership, but less attention has been devoted to the reasons why renting often sucks, and how it could be made better. To achieve this, property owners would have to be stripped of some powers that they wield far too liberally. Say, the ability to file no-fault evictions, or the freedom to raise rents whenever they want. And if politicians really wanted to level the playing field, they would allow renters to subtract a portion of rent from their federal taxes, as rich homeowners are allowed to do with the mortgage interest deduction. (Some states already let renters do this.)
Giving renters direct material support and making renting better would be the right thing to do in the wake of the pandemic and the excruciating pain that the crisis has inflicted upon millions of renters. But it would also be a departure from the Democratic party’s electoral habit of locking in poor voters and then promptly selling them out to the affluent moderates who demand austerity.
Since the conservative haze of the Reagan years, the Democratic party leadership has found itself in a state of identity crisis, toasting its moments of relative progressivism (“The New Deal! The Civil Rights Act! Obamacare!”) while constantly coming up with their own ways to kick poor people in the face as a treat for the well-off. Bill Clinton kissed up to moderates by making welfare applicants jump through even more hoops. Barack Obama attempted to cut social security payments to appease centrist budget hawks. In 2016 Hillary Clinton secured the Democratic nomination for president on the thesis that structural poverty—the logical conclusion of cat food wages and spiraling costs of living—could be fixed by adding jobs to the economy: GDP growth and prosperity for all, with minimal redistribution of power or resources!
If that premise sounds eerily familiar, maybe it’s because Biden’s pandemic recovery plan has hinged on opening up the economy again, as if this would boost the fortunes of all, while allowing crucial social safety net benefits like unemployment and tenant protections to be quietly phased out. But it was never going to end quietly, because Americans still need a hell of a lot more than extra hours. The eviction moratorium was one of the most effective forms of assistance that renters received from the federal government during the pandemic. The $600 unemployment supplements and the stimulus checks that Congress and the White House grudgingly sent to tens of millions of bank accounts also helped people pay bills and stay afloat.
These policies were a taste of what renters truly needed, which is to stay housed during the pandemic. They needed direct, red tape-free interventions that the Democrats consistently refuse to fight for because it might scare away some of their prized affluent moderate voters, or because the party leaders are affluent moderates who don’t like the idea of just giving money to poor people.
The collapse of the federal eviction moratorium is a horrifying failure of governance. It’s also an unusual moment of candor from the Democratic leadership—an implicit statement about what matters to the party, and what doesn’t. The eviction moratorium was the last thing holding millions of renters back from the abyss, and the Democrats just let it die, while pointing fingers at each other and disavowing responsibility for the lapse. Evidently, they even seem to understand just how shitty this looks to us. But they let it happen anyway. The events of the past three days betray not just apathy toward the suffering of renters, but foundational opposition to the idea that the government should play a more muscular role in helping them at all: especially the poor renters who will lose their housing because the Democrats decided to stand by and watch them drown.
It’s too soon to know just how many evictions will be filed in the weeks ahead, or how many renters will have been rendered unhoused when it’s time for the 2022 midterms. But if recent election cycles are anything to go by, we can expect Democratic leaders to reintroduce themselves as friends of the “little guys”—as advocates for the people who would otherwise be skinned alive by Republicans. But in a way, the Democrats have already granted us a more honest breakdown of our options. Would you rather be evicted with a sneer, or with an apology?
Miles Howard is a writer covering urban living, outdoor recreation, and how to socialize them. His work has appeared in National Geographic, The Boston Globe, VICE, Shelterforce, and the Washington Post. He lives in Boston.
I really liked this by Daisy Alioto in the Dirt newsletter for reasons I am not really clear about myself. I’ve been flouncing and languishing around the house lately in such and such a way that keeps making Michelle ask me what’s wrong and the only thing I can think of to say is that the vibes are off even though I don’t know what that is supposed to indicate to her or to myself or even means. I feel like the astronaut in the tweet racing back to earth to get a gun because there are ghosts on the moon but I don’t know what the moon or the ghosts are standing in for here just that I need the gun urgently. Anyway she wrote:
I currently have coronavirus. But not in a Leslie Jamison single parenting type way, more like in a “I got the Pfizer vaccine at a CVS in Ossining while Satellites by DMB played” type way. Like in a “I think I caught the Delta variant on a Delta flight to Portland” type way. When I went to get tested, the test center was next to Subway so the examining room smelled like bread and when I asked the nurse whether it always smells like that she said, “I am fighting demons every day.” It’s a breakthrough case: my immune system is not being called out, it’s being called in.
Last week, as athletes dropped out of the Tokyo Olympics, I sat in an empty conference room and watched the silhouette of a man on a boom lift taking down a Naomi Osaka Sweetgreen billboard while he played (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction from an unseen speaker. I thought huh, that’s a little on the nose.
The vibes are off with my succulent, the succulent that my husband impulse-bought at Trader Joe’s on his way to propose to me one week before the first lockdown. While I was in Portland, he texted me a photo of the blackened plant with 24 crying emojis. Today I took the only piece of the succulent that was still green and planted it in new soil that I ordered on Amazon, marveling at the miracle and horror that is overnight Prime. I sprayed the replanted cutting with water. I never wanted to be responsible for this metaphor.
I wear a mask while I tend to the succulent because my husband isn’t yet symptomatic and may never be. It is the typical marriage story, you wake up and think “who are you and how did you get into my apartment” and then you go downstairs and look in the mirror and say the same thing.
I also liked this by Brandy Jensen in the new Gawker.
…You aren’t old, you are merely disappointed. It can feel like the same thing but it’s not, which you are sure to discover 30 or 40 years from now. I know it’s not particularly helpful to hear that, nonetheless it’s the truth. Things will happen in your life you cannot imagine now; you will get things you have yet to discover you even want at all. There are years and years ahead of you to make good decisions and terrible ones. But you’re far more likely to make more of the latter kind if you indulge your envy now. It’s unfortunate that you got a Ph.D in the humanities right around the time a Ph.D in the humanities reached the nadir of its worth. It’s dispiriting that you haven’t met someone who will love you in the way you need. Neither of those things are particularly your fault, but nor are they at all the fault of the people in your life to whom different unfortunate and dispiriting things have happened. Withdrawing from those people only allows you to keep imagining that happiness is as easy as signing a mortgage.
Some people are claimed early by bitterness. You can spot them pretty easily — the querulous, the chronically disappointed. Maybe you were taught by one of these people, or employed by one, or raised by one. These are not fun people to be around. They are shabby and mean, and they probably all became that way one tiny resentment at a time. It is perfectly understandable, when you are feeling a bit lost and directionless, to want to avoid those anchored firmly in place. You assume they will view your lack of attachments as a failure, but in truth some probably envy the chance to start over so unencumbered.
Elsewhere on Hell World here’s some old and newer stuff you may have missed:
I’ve seen a number of people speculating on Twitter lately about how the rollout of the vaccine might have gone differently if Americans actually had you know a specific primary care doctor of their own that they knew and trusted throughout their lives. It reminded me of this piece I did a while back talking about just that: How few of us 1) have a doctor 2) know who they are 3) actually ever see them when we do need care.
“lol I have to leave a message with the front office who will leave a message with the nurse who will leave a message with my doctor who will tell my nurse to call me back 3 days later,” one person told me.
“I’ve been to my doctor’s office 4 times in the last year and have not seen my doctor. I think he might have died and the staff is covering it up,” added another.
Read all the rest here.
I plug this old one fairly regularly but it’s been on my mind a lot lately.
Last week I spent a few days on the beach in Maine and reflected on the passage of time and death and the bullshit way poets talk about birds and Modest Mouse and E.B. White and climate change all the other fun stuff you think about when you’re on vacation.
There must have been hundreds of them just the ones we could see obviously there are more than a hundred crabs out there I think and we leaned down to get a closer look at one because it seemed like he had a long silver tail reflecting bright off the sun but no it was just some kind of mackerel type of guy he had hanging out of his crab mouth. It was way too large for a hermit crab to have taken a bite of and maybe it was the radiating pain or the hangover from the night before or the realization that everything is about to be fucked again from the covid variants but I started to feel something like disquiet instead of gaiety it felt like we were on the beach from Annihilation and the gulls so many gulls were screaming in their horrible bird language like they were supremely pissed off about something like when you want to explain how you feel to someone so badly but you cannot find the appropriate words for it and instead you lash out and later feel poorly about it.
Read the rest here. It’s paid-only but here’s 33% off. Shhh.
Then I looked back on all The Strokes stuff I’ve written about in Hell World over the years including the first (2001) and last (2020) times I saw them, plus I unearthed an old interview I did with Julian Casablancas, and took a stab at my top 25 non Is This Is? songs. Read it here.
Here’s another good music one imo:
And here’s some other reading “from around the web.”
Ok that’s all for now goodbye.