Housing in Brief: A Campaign to Cancel Rent – Next City
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Housing in Brief: A Campaign to Cancel Rent

Relocation Confusion in Cincinnati Public Housing

A group of public-housing residents in Cincinnati say they’re being forced to move during the middle of the coronavirus outbreak for scheduled renovations of their apartments, according to a report in the Cincinnati Enquirer. The building, called Pinecrest, is owned by the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority, which is planning to renovate the units and convert the building to Section 8-style voucher housing under the federal Rental Assistance Demonstration program. As part of that program, public-housing residents are meant to be temporarily relocated and given a chance to return to their unit if they want to. A group of residents on the top floors of the building received relocation notices on April 9, with some being told they needed to be out of their units within 30 days. Some residents told the Enquirer that they hadn’t been shown the minimum number of apartments as options to relocate to, and some were being moved into smaller units than the ones they live in at Pinecrest. They want relocations paused until at least June 1. The housing authority said that it was allowed to start relocating residents on March 26, but voluntarily delayed action until May 15.

“At no time has Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority broken any promises to Pinecrest residents,” the authority told the paper in a statement. “If we made a mistake, we corrected it immediately.”

Construction on the top floors of the building was scheduled to begin July 1, according to the report. At the end of April, coronavirus figures in Ohio were trending upward, even as the state began to consider reopening, according to another Enquirer report.

A Campaign to Cancel Rent

CityLab reports on “Our Homes, Our Health,” a campaign by a coalition of progressive groups to suspend rent and mortgage payments. The coalition includes the Center for Popular Democracy, People’s Action, Partnership for Working Families, and Right to the City Alliance, and is in some ways an outgrowth of a handful of progressive campaigns around housing issues last fall. The campaign calls for rent and mortgage cancellation along with “a number of longtime leftist policy goals,” the report says, including social housing and rent control. The campaign also calls for tenants to have a right to renew their leases, and for a broad federal program of buying homes off the private market and providing them to residents as “regulated, social housing, placed under democratic community control and public stewardship.” As CityLab reports, the campaign reflects a growing recognition that the pandemic crisis is only highlighting necessary changes in the way housing is provided in the United States.

“How do we think of recovery in terms of building a better and more equitable system that works for all?” Chris Schildt, a senior associate for PolicyLink, told CityLab. “That is what’s necessary in this moment. In 2008, we did not do that, and we’ve seen the consequences — the highest levels of inequality that this country has seen in 100 years and an incredible crisis of evictions and housing instability, especially for communities of color and especially for African-American women.”

A Housing Policy Scorecard as Evictions Persist

“People got evicted today in America,” said Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City and founder of the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, in an interview with CityMetric. As the interview notes, the Eviction Lab recently released a “COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard” to assess states on their responses to housing insecurity during the pandemic. No state received a five-star rating, but Massachusetts, Delaware and Connecticut received the next-highest marks for extending eviction moratoria past the end of the declaration of the state of emergency (Mass. and Delaware) and giving tenants a grace period to pay rent (Connecticut).

In the interview, Desmond says that there are “a lot of opportunities in the middle of the debate” between a mass program of rental assistance and an outright cancellation of rent, and that a moratorium on all evictions is the single-most important thing a jurisdiction can do during the pandemic.

“The stimulus was not enough,” he said in the interview. “The median rent in this country is over $1,000. If you think of a $1,200 dollar check, most of that’s going to be eaten up by rent. This a chance for policymakers to think about not only triage to get us through the crisis, but as an opportunity for us to create a new, more just society.”

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our twice-weekly Backyard newsletter.

Jared Brey is Next City's housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.

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Tags: public housingcovid-19rentevictions

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