December 7, 2020
By: Comrade Mary
ST. LOUIS, MO. On January 1, at least 6.7 million American households will be facing eviction. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, many Americans have lost their jobs and at least 18 million Americans are behind on mortgage and rent payments. Earlier this year, the city government declared a rent moratorium. During the moratorium, courts cannot force removal from housing for not paying rent. However, this only lasts until December 31. Landlords are also prohibited from imposing late payment penalties. But, landlords have still been finding ways to evict their tenants and take them to court. Landlords have increasingly been evicting tenants for petty offenses, such as noise and trash, or have not allowed tenants to renew their leases. “Landlords can still use the threat of filing to intimidate the renter and get them to move out,” Andrew Aurand of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition said. Being unable to afford rent causes not only short-term problems accessing housing but can make it more difficult in the future. Even a threat of eviction is often treated as an actual eviction by landlords, making it harder for tenants to access housing in the future. “The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have spread far and wide. Job loss, evictions, utilities shut off, homelessness, hunger,” St. Louis homeless outreach group Pontbangerz said.
“These events may, and have, caused an increase in mental health crises such as depression, feelings of desperation and ultimately in some cases, suicide. There is also an increase in families living in motel rooms and in their vehicles.” Even for St. Louisans who have managed to stay housed this year, according to the St. Louis American, more than 75,000 households experience severe housing burden, paying more than 50 percent of their income in rent. Public schools in the City of St. Louis alone recognize 5,500 homeless students. In the St. Louis area, the United Way 211 social services hotline has been receiving a 50 percent increase in calls for housing and shelter compared to 2019. Requests for rental assistance have tripled, and shelter requests have more than quadrupled. Homelessness has increased as well. On a given night, about 6,000 Missourians are without housing. This is an issue of national oppression as well. According to the City of St. Louis, Black residents are nearly four times more likely to be homeless than their white counterparts. The last time housing was at risk on such a wide scale in the United States was during the 2008 foreclosure crisis. Black St. Louisans lost their homes as banks began buying North St. Louis homes in bulk, according to Glenn Burleigh of the Equal Housing Opportunity Council (EHOC).
Amid these struggles, activists and advocates have been looking for solutions. Tenant advocates and unions around the country have demanded an extension to the moratorium. Direct actions in which the masses seize properties for housing have also taken place. Meanwhile, Americans wait for a coronavirus relief package that could include tens of billions of dollars for rent and mortgage assistance. On a systematic level, eliminating single family zoning, building affordable developments and increasing tenant protections could improve housing access, particularly for New Afrikan people. However, these gains will have to be conquered, snatched from the enemy. Nothing is given without vicious struggle, history bears this out. Unhoused people, most of which are New Afrikans, are also at an increased risk for Covid-19. “Failing to house medically vulnerable people without homes will endanger their lives,” Dr. Tim Huffman of St. Louis University said. “It will also cost the health, human service and public safety infrastructure roughly $35 million in emergency healthcare, inefficient shelter programs, law enforcement interactions and downstream system effects. It will also cost roughly 80 percent less than the alternative: $7.5 million to operate for two years.”
In a city that spends 44 percent of its budget on prisons and police and a measly six percent on health and welfare, homeless outreach groups such as Potbangerz, St. Louis Winter Outreach, the T STL, Center for People’s Self-Determination, and Tent Mission STL have filled the gap, providing mutual aid to working class communities locally. TruthOut defines mutual aid as “Collective coordination to meet each other’s needs, usually stemming from an awareness that the systems we have in place are not going to meet them.” Volunteers provide care packages and warm meals and clothing to people on the streets, and working class families in precarious housing situations. They cannot do it alone though. We need real systematic changes in our cities and country to address the housing crisis caused by capitalism, which can only come about through revolution. Mutual aid under capitalism is simply a bandaid – it must be a complement to struggling for the seizure of power. As Dr. Huffman said, “By addressing the racial and economic injustices connected to housing and healthcare, we can create the necessary conditions for human dignity and flourishing.”
Only through strengthening community bonds and building fighting renters’ organizations on a revolutionary, militant basis can the working class New Afrikan people of Saint Louis ensure that the pandemic of houselessness doesn’t spread, and is combatted. Learning from the example of the 1969 Rent Strike and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the masses can seize the time and seize the power.