May 6, 2021
It doesn’t seem like coincidence to wake up and hear tenant alarm bells going off everywhere. The headlines across all media outlets that a federal judge in Washington, DC had ruled against the national eviction moratorium was a wakeup call everywhere. That wasn’t good news, but for me it was more personal. There was also a text message on my phone from Atlanta that tenants were suddenly buzzing with issues at a complex where we had been organizing in recent months, and we needed to respond ASAP. Opening my email before dawn, there was a message from Denver about an announced eviction in a complex there that would displace lots of elderly and section 8 tenants over the next ninety-days. All of these alarms had to be answered, but each one boils down to “what can be done?”
Partially, as organizers, we have a “cry wolf” problem. With the on-and-off declarations of moratoriums over the last year, we have found ourselves gearing up for this tsunami of evictions over and over. We’ve organized around the issue. We’ve staffed up. We’ve warned tenants it was coming. Then, there would be an extension, and like a hurricane that passes by after everyone has packed in extra water and hunkered down, fewer people would be ready to prepare to act each time. Don’t get me wrong. We celebrated every extension of the moratorium. We counted ourselves lucky. Trump or Biden, we supported the moratoriums.
At the same time, as these storms passed over, many tenants became jaded about the warnings, relaxing their guard. Landlords reacted the other way. More and more landlords started taking steps to evict, issuing notices and warnings, whether they planned to follow through or not. Often these evictions would be stopped with a CDC letter. When they involved Section 8 tenants and, frequently, ridiculously unsupported rent increases, HUD would join us in pushing them back. Nonetheless, tenants under the gun who are confronting eviction notices, whether legal or not, often simply pack and move, so that they can escape having an eviction on their record which would make it harder to find the next place.
Will this really be the eviction hurricane warning? Reports indicate that there will be appeals of this judge’s decision. Other courts have ruled differently, so the applicability of the Public Health Law granting such powers is unsettled. Most believe the process will at least allow for delays on mass evictions until after June 30th, when the current moratorium is scheduled to end, but then what.
We’ll respond to all of these calls. We’ll scale up again. Where we have organizers on the group, we’ll hunker down to be ready for July. In fact, copying the successful work of our United Kingdom affiliate, we’ll establish an ACORN Tenants Union Support Group in Facebook, that will block landlords, but allow tenants to raise the alarm, share questions, and get answers wherever they are. This may be the big one, but whether it is or not, we know the big one is definitely coming, so we need to all be ready as rent due catches up with millions of tenants, while relief continues to lag on the ground, despite the press releases.