It was hard to make rent before COVID-19. Now we must fight harder for housing justice

Coya Crespin

A home provides far more than shelter

Coya Crespin

Acjachemen Band (of Mission Indians) 

For me, home means living in a community where I can send my 9-year-old daughter next door for the egg I need to finish a batch of cupcakes.

For me, my daughter, my three-year-old son and for my baby who’s due in May, a home represents the stability and growth of real, deep roots in our Portland, Oregon, community. It’s the life I wanted as a kid.

I grew up in southern California, moving throughout the west coast, and I attended high school in Sante Fe, New Mexico for a while, never feeling truly home.

Now, COVID-19 is threatening our home and the homes of millions of people.

It’s hitting impoverished, vulnerable, and black and brown communities especially hard, as many families struggle to make their rent payments every week.

Yes, we, as people of color, have a long history of being resourceful and working overtime at minimum wage jobs to keep the lights on, food in the fridge, and a roof over our heads.

But this is an unprecedented time that will have unprecedented consequences. As the clock ticks and we operate under state orders to stay inside our homes and millions of people find themselves out of work, those of us who fight for housing justice are wondering: How will we all make next month’s rent?

I was a single mom working 50+ hours a week as a manager at Chipotle. When my son was six months old, I found a no-cause eviction order taped to my door. I knew I needed a change, so I began organizing with other tenants to make a better life for myself and my children.

In 2015, my North Portland community fought back. Our units were neglected, infested with roaches and mold, and the landlord was threatening to evict us all. Meanwhile, incoming new tenants had their units refurbished and repaired. It was a slap in the face, but we rallied 27 families to fight back. In the end, we took our landlord to court and successfully got our units up to code and won a cash award, collectively sidestepping an offer for $3,000 per family that would have prevented us from talking about our ordeal.

In times of chaos, we have no choice but to thrive. That’s why housing justice organizers across the country are asking Congress for a national moratorium on all foreclosures, evictions, utility shutoffs, and sweeps of people experiencing homelessness for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. We’re fighting for everyone. No one should have to deal with the additional pressure of worrying about housing—more than we normally do, at least—in addition to dealing with this global pandemic and all the stress that comes with it.

There must also be a national freeze on all increases in rent and mortgage payments during the pandemic. The federal government should also create a housing security fund to provide hotels and other safe housing to ensure that unhoused people can self-quarantine and avoid exposure. In addition, we need rent and mortgage payment assistance for anyone affected by the pandemic and help with application fees, first month’s rent and security deposits to secure safe housing during this crisis and afterward. Finally, we need direct cash assistance to all people in the United States—including undocumented folks who were left out of the stimulus packages passed so far.

These lifesaving measures would help alleviate pressure so that we can not just survive, but thrive. The solutions that tenant organizers like myself are uplifting are to ensure that our elected officials do everything to help my family, and yours, navigate this pandemic as safely as possible.

Things are scary and uncertain, yes, but we have the chance to create the world we want to live in. I hope you’ll join our fight to #CancelRent for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis because no one is going to come to save us—We have to save ourselves.

Coya Crespin is a member of the Acjachemen Band (of Mission Indians) out of San Juan Capistrano, California, and is a Portland Metro Area Organizer at Community Alliance of Tenants.

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