“Band-Aid Over a Bullet Wound”


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Source: Democracy Now!

Despite a new two-month moratorium on evictions issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, millions of people in the U.S. are still at risk of losing their homes as landlords in some states fight back against the measure. The new CDC moratorium is “a band-aid over a bullet wound,” says Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants, a tenants’ rights organization in Kansas City. “This is a very small step. It’s the bare minimum. And for many tenants … this will actually not offer the protections that are needed to keep them in their homes.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.

Landlords in Georgia and Alabama have asked a federal judge to block the Biden administration’s new two-month moratorium on evictions. The new CDC moratorium covers areas of the United States where there is “substantial” or “high” spread of the coronavirus. That’s about 90% of the country.

A nationwide moratorium on evictions expired at the end of July after Democratic lawmakers failed to pass a bill to protect the millions of renters who could be forced from their homes. But then a group of lawmakers, led by Representative Cori Bush of Missouri, began camping out on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to pressure the Biden administration to take action.

In a moment, we’ll be joined by a leading housing activist, but first we turn to a tenant in Kansas City who’s on the verge of losing his home. His name is Aqui Greadington. He spoke to Democracy Now! last week.

AQUI GREADINGTON: I’m at risk for eviction because my landlord is, essentially, just one month behind on rent. I came home one evening to a three-day eviction notice on my door, which I later found out isn’t really the process for how evictions go. So, I really felt like my landlord was trying to intimidate me or, like, harass me, because not only was there the three-day eviction notice on my door, but there was also a notice to — notice of nonrenewal. So, my lease ends September 30th. So, whether I get the funds or not, I still have to be out of here. …

I ended up behind not only with rents, but utilities and, I mean, really just kind of like, in general, just through mental health surrounding the pandemic. I struggle with depression and anxiety as it is, that on top of a lot of the racial trauma we’ve been enduring, as well as a lot of the misinformation and just the way people are treating each other just kind of compounds and adds to this energy. For me, I just became extremely overwhelmed. And my leave was unpaid. So I just kind of got into a position where I fell, you know, behind. …

I’ve tried to make a payment plan. I informed them the very first day when I started working and that I just need time. None of those things really made a difference. And it was very frustrating for myself to be someone that, aside from my leave that I took, I’m someone that works full time. I’m someone that pays my rent on time every month. And the first time I have any sort of an issue, at a time when the world is dealing with something unprecedented, it just made zero sense to me, like very unempathetic, that you can only be concerned about money at this time. …

It’s definitely a high-anxiety moment, because I don’t have a mom and dad that I can call to, you know, go stay with or ask for money or anything like that. You know, I actually have my dad’s ashes. And one of my big concerns is, you know, if I get kicked out on the street, like what am I going to do with my dad’s ashes? You know, and I think those are things that these landlords don’t think about when they make these decisions from these boardrooms, is the real effect that it has on people.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Aqui Greadington, speaking to Democracy Now! from Kansas City about his fight to stay in his home. He says he doesn’t have a father or mother to just go live in their house. In fact, he has his father’s ashes with him.

We’re joined now by Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants, which is a grassroots, tenant-led organization in Kansas City, Missouri, which is also the Homes Guarantee campaign director at People’s Action.

We thank you so much for being with us. Let’s continue with Aqui, to use him as an example to understand what’s happening right now. We just reported that the Biden administration, under enormous pressure, led by a formerly unhoused person, now congressmember, Cori Bush, and Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis and Ayanna Pressley of Boston — slept out on the Capitol steps to protest the lack of extension of a rent moratorium. So they got that extension, ultimately, but it’s not for the entire country. And what does it mean in Aqui’s case? How is this playing out on the ground for millions of people, Tara?

TARA RAGHUVEER: Well, Amy, thank you so much for having me back.

And you’re absolutely right to give kudos to Representative Cori Bush and Representative Ilhan Omar. I want to start there, because I think what they demonstrated through their actions on Friday and through the weekend is that, more often than not, when someone in power tells you that something is impossible, they’re lying to you, right? And these congresswomen, empowered by and driven by their own direct experience, that’s not dissimilar to Aqui’s, took the action that they needed to take in order to fight for millions of renters across the country. So, kudos is owed to them.

And this latest action by the administration is just a band-aid over a bullet wound. This is a very small step. It’s the bare minimum. And for many tenants, including Aqui, this will actually not offer the protections that are needed to keep them in their homes. Aqui tells us in his story that he’s at risk of eviction, but currently his landlord has just threatened him with legal action. That means that he is putting notices on the door and harassing Aqui to tell him to get out. He’s actually not even using the formal eviction process. And we see this so often, that tenants are displaced even outside of the court’s purview.

And then the other thing that Aqui tells us is that his lease is just not going to be renewed, right? So, his landlord will be able to get around this eviction moratorium by, instead of evicting him for back owed rent, which is what’s protected at the federal level, evicting him for possession of the property. And that eviction is actually not banned by this eviction moratorium. And therefore, Aqui is one of millions of tenants who will be evicted because their landlords will, unfortunately, exploit this loophole.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s happened to the billions of dollars under COVID relief that were allocated to deal with these crises?

TARA RAGHUVEER: To put it bluntly, rental assistance has been a disaster. And the tenant movement knew that it would be, right? Last March, March 2020, we were calling for rent and mortgage cancellation. And we worked very closely with Representative Ilhan Omar and her team to introduce that legislation to Congress. That would have been automatic, and it would have been universal. Rent and mortgage cancellation would have canceled all rent payments. It would have made the rent, back owed rent, uncollectible and unevictable. And then landlords could apply directly for the relief that they needed, that would be conditioned on a set of tenant protections.

Now, instead of any of that, we have a bureaucratic, nonautomatic, means-tested program in rental assistance. And the money is not getting to the tenants who need it. Not only is it a major bailout for the industry, a lot of governors, like ours in Missouri, are just sitting on money. Our governor, Mike Parson, is sitting on $250 million that are not getting to tenants who need it across his state. Our city, in Kansas City, has closed down their rental assistance applications, even though they are sitting on the second round of the emergency rental assistance money from the federal government. And at this point, a lot of tenants, of course, are facing eviction before they’ve ever had a chance to access that funding to stay in their homes.

AMY GOODMAN: But why can’t you get that freed up? How can they be closing? How can they not be giving it out?

TARA RAGHUVEER: I wish I had the answers for you, Amy. We’ve been asking everyone who will talk to us. But, unfortunately, when policy is made in this way, when the federal government is handing money down to states and localities, that money becomes political really quickly, right? We saw that money get held up at the state level, at the county level and at the city level as people played political games with other people’s lives, right? And unfortunately, now it’s too little too late for a lot of the tenants who are most at risk or most urgently at risk. They will be displaced, or they’ve already been displaced, before they can ever access those funds.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s be clear that the moratorium on evicting renters actually began under Trump, and then Biden reextended it and now, only because of enormous pressure, has come up with a kind of new one. So, given that it was established under the former president, who was a developer, who is a developer, what do you see — who does it actually protect? And how many people are going to lose their homes, do you predict, Tara?

TARA RAGHUVEER: The timing of the Trump moratorium is notable. Trump, the developer-in-chief, right before his reelection — which was ultimately unsuccessful — issued this federal moratorium. It was September 2020. And it was, you know, crumbs that he was throwing at poor and working-class people to try to win some votes, right? It was a political move.

The policy was never well written. From the beginning, it was extremely flawed. It was not written in a way that was actually going to keep the majority of poor and working-class tenants in their homes. It only protects against evictions on the basis of rent, meaning that landlords, from the beginning, have been able to exploit those loopholes and start evicting people for other reasons, lease violations for the possession of property, just not renewing leases as a way of getting people out.

Also, this policy was never automatic. So it didn’t just ban evictions. It said, “Here’s a form that tenants have to fill out to apply for protection.” But that requires the tenant to know that this protection exists. So tenant organizations like ours worked overtime to make sure that the information on the moratorium got out to people. And still, there are a lot of people who never got that information.

Fundamentally, the Trump order leaves — excuse me, the Trump order left so much discretion up to local judges that many courts just kept the eviction dockets open and continued evicting people. And it’s important for people to note that the Biden order that was issued on Tuesday is actually, in many ways, more restrictive than the Trump order was to begin with.

AMY GOODMAN: Meaning? What does it leave out? Who does it leave out?

TARA RAGHUVEER: So, it’s not automatic. It doesn’t apply to every eviction. And now it’s limited to geographies that are distinctly impacted by the Delta variant and by spiking cases. But if case numbers go down in a given geography for a 14-day period, the protection could expire for that locality, for that geography.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Tara, you are the director of KC Tenants, which is a grassroots, tenant-led organization in Kansas City. You engage in a lot of eviction defense. What does that mean? And what are you doing now?

TARA RAGHUVEER: For the better part of the last year, we have had to take matters into our own hands and disrupt evictions by any means necessary. And this is only after months, months of advocacy at the local level, at the state level, to try to get our courts to close down, to try to get the state to cancel rent. Ultimately, we were unsuccessful, and the people in power were not listening to the people.

And so, July of last year, I think, was the first disruption that we attempted in the downtown courthouse in Kansas City. We had people go into the courthouse and verbally disrupt. We had people on the phone lines, because evictions were also happening by conference call.

And then we iterated on those tactics over the course of several months, ultimately culminating in what we called “Zero Eviction January.” It was the dead of winter. It was cold. COVID numbers were spiking. And we decided that we were going to try to shut down every eviction in Kansas City for the month of January. And ultimately, we were successful. We interrupted over 90% of the court’s attempts to evict people that month.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have Kansas City now, metropolitan area, reporting 1,115 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest daily number since January. So you would be included in this eviction moratorium, which ends in two months. What do you expect will happen then?

TARA RAGHUVEER: We’re included in this moratorium that ends in two months, but evictions have been happening the entirety of the past year in Kansas City. There are evictions happening in downtown Kansas City today. There are 150 eviction cases on the docket today in downtown Kansas City, including at least a few KC Tenants members, including one named Sabrina Davis, who’s already been displaced from her home. So I think it’s very important that we start there. Evictions are happening. They’ve been happening. They will continue to occur even under this federal moratorium.

And, to your point, we will be in the same place that we were on Saturday come October 3rd, right? We’re just kicking the can down the road. We in the tenant movement have always known that an eviction moratorium was not going to save us. We actually need, and the Biden administration and Congress need, to confront this system that commodifies one of our basic needs, which is our homes, and tells us that our homes are just someone else’s investment. With every eviction that we allow, whether it’s during a pandemic or not, what we are doing is prioritizing one person’s profits over another person’s life. And that is not OK.

AMY GOODMAN: We just interviewed Cori Bush, in the midst of her protest, that has led to the Biden administration doing something temporary here. She introduced the Unhoused Bill of Rights. You are proposing a National Tenants’ Bill of Rights. What would that look like?

TARA RAGHUVEER: Absolutely. In the Homes Guarantee, what we envision is a country in which we can guarantee that everyone has a safe, accessible and truly affordable home. This sounds simple, but, of course, it’s a premise that’s complicated by what we like to call a conspiracy of the profiteers, that has convinced us that the only way to deliver housing is through the private market.

Now more than ever, now when the federal government is moving hundreds of billions of dollars in a bailout to the rental industry, what we need is a correction of the power imbalance between landlords and tenants. Tenants need more power. They need more control over their homes, over where they live, how long they get to live there, over their choices in the rental market, before we fully transition away from the market model, which is ultimately the goal. So, we in the Homes Guarantee campaign have envisioned a National Tenants’ Bill of Rights.

But importantly, actually before we go to talk to anyone in D.C., even our closest champions, what we know that we need to do is build the power in the field to win a National Tenants’ Bill of Rights. We actually can’t exist in the realm of message bills anymore. It’s not going to cut it. We learned some hard lessons during the fight for cancel rent about the power that we do not have to win what we need yet.

So, currently, we’re in the process of the largest field operation that the tenant movement has ever seen. We’re attempting to engage over a million tenants in the process of writing their own rights into existence. And through that process, we’re hoping to build the power that we will ultimately need to not only introduce a National Tenants’ Bill of Rights, that’s written by us, but also win that National Tenants’ Bill of Rights to correct that balance of power in the direction of the tenant.

AMY GOODMAN: Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants, which is a grassroots, tenant-led organization based in Kansas City. She’s also with People’s Action. To see our interviews last week with Congressmembers Ilhan Omar and Cori Bush, who both slept outside on the Capitol steps to demand the Biden administration reimpose the rent moratorium, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Stay safe. Protect yourself, your family, community. Wear a mask.

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