Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been holding Congress’ feet to the fire for a lack of depth in economic relief bills that should protect working people. Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly brought attention to the fact that many people will not be able to make their rent or mortgage payments at the end of April, especially with more than 30.3 million people currently filing for unemployment benefits as a result of losing work due to the global pandemic.
With tenants and housing rights advocates organizing across the country for state and local rent strikes, Ocasio-Cortez has called for state and federal rent cancellations during the pandemic. “People can’t pay. You cannot coerce someone into doing something that they cannot do. There is no money in the bank,” said the New York Congresswoman. “People need to feed their kids. We cannot be evicting. We need to be making sure that we are passing policy that allows people to stay in their homes.”
That’s why Rep. Ocasio-Cortez will cosponsor a bill proposed earlier this month by Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar that would cancel all rent and mortgage payments nationwide for the duration of the pandemic. Other cosponsors include Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), also members of “The Squad,” along with Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Mark Pocan (D-WI)Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), and Grace Meng (D-NY).
The proposed bill, called the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act, will include full forgiveness of missed payments with no impact on renters’ or homeowners’ credits scores, a relief fund for landlords and mortgage holders, and efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing options.
“Congress has a responsibility to step in to stabilize both local communities and the housing market during this time of uncertainty and crisis,” said Omar in a press release. “In 2008, we bailed out Wall Street. This time, it’s time to bail out the American people who are suffering.”
Pressley and Tlaib have also stressed that housing is always connected to public health, and never more so than during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We must take bold, urgent action that meets the scale and scope of this crisis, and keeps families whole,” said Pressley in the statement. Tlaib also said that cancelling rent and mortgage payments will allow people to stay home “without the added concern of losing their housing and limit the spread of the virus.”
Over 20 million people have lost their jobs since COVID-19 hit the US.
Not one deserves to be frightened about eviction or foreclosure during a pandemic.
Join us in 10 mins w/ @housing4allNY talking abt how to organize for housing justice during COVID-19.https://t.co/nCGzf8hHnF
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 27, 2020
Around the country, lawmakers and housing rights organizers are taking action. New York City is expected to see the largest rent strike in nearly 100 years, lawmakers in Maryland are putting pressure on the governor to cancel rent and mortgage payments for residents, and an eviction and foreclosure moratorium was passed in Massachusetts.
An unprecedented number of Americans have filed for unemployment since the lockdowns began in March, with 3.8 million new claims filed just last week. As a result, more and more people will have a hard time meeting their basic needs as the pandemic continues, and rent payments will, for many, take a backseat to food and medicine, for example.
Now, as renters nationwide are planning strikes in their communities, they have vocal allies in Congress. “People aren’t striking because they don’t feel like paying rent,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “People are striking because they can’t pay rent.”
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