By Abayomi Azikiwe
A recent moratorium issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided a window of relief until December 31 to millions facing evictions due to payment arrears on their rents and mortgages.
Perhaps as an election ploy by the current administration, the question of public health is paramount when a country is experiencing the largest outbreak of an infectious disease in more than a century. This measure comes amid one of the worst economic downturns since the Great Depression during 1929-1941.
Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions have been thrown out of work in the United States. The administration of President Donald J. Trump is overseeing the most deadly spread of the pandemic internationally.
Trump continues to blame the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for the failures of his oval office to take preventative and adequate mitigation efforts aimed at halting the spread of the disease. Since February, nearly 200,000 people in the U.S. have died due to COVID-19 while more than 6 million were infected with the highly contagious illness.
Housing activists across the U.S. are grappling with the significance of the CDC moratorium and what actions are needed to protect working and impoverished people from being thrown out of their homes irrespective of government policy. Many are concerned about what will happen after the moratorium expires and whether it will be extended by whichever candidate wins the November presidential election.
As part of the process of movement building and political coordination, a public meeting known as “Liberation Mondays” was held in the city of Detroit on September 14 which was hosted by the General Baker Institute (GBI). Additional sponsors of the gathering were the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, Detroit Will Breathe (DWB), the Democratic Socialist of America (DSA) in Detroit, the Black-Brown Alliance of Metro Detroit DSA, among others.
Several of the leading organizations concerned and working on the housing crisis in Detroit were present. This event represented a perspective on housing that is in line with the current national and international struggles against police violence and institutional racism. DWB, which has led demonstrations in Detroit and the suburbs against police misconduct for over three months, were a key component in the meeting.
Those speaking from the panel assembled were Agnes Hitchcock of the Call Em out Coalition, a grouping which has existed for more than a decade geared towards holding public officials accountable to the people of Detroit. Also Monica Lewis-Patrick represented We the People of Detroit, an organization committed to ensuring clean running water for all residents of the city and Tristan Taylor, an organizer for DWB. The forum was chaired by the Black-Brown Alliance of DSA and Kenya Fentress of Black Lives Matter across 8 Mile.
The Detroit Eviction Defense (DED) coalition had two representatives who spoke to the escalating housing crisis in the city. Jim Dwight said during his comments that the majority of people coming to DED for assistance were African American women. Detroit is an overwhelming African American populated municipality which has undergone decades of underdeveloped and systematic oppression. Detroit was subjected to the illegal imposition of emergency management and bankruptcy from 2013-2014. Since then the corporate-oriented Mayor Mike Duggan has incessantly sought to transfer public resources to private capitalist interests that are dominating the economy of Detroit including Dan Gilbert, the Illitch family and the leading financial institutions, such as Chase Bank.
As a direct result of the pandemic, the “development” model of business office space availability, entertainment, sports, high-rent apartments, expensive condominiums and tourism has been in severe decline. The much championed casino hotels have reopened recently with monumental reductions in allowed capacity.
During the summer, the City administration placed through a 5-4 vote by the equally corporate-compliant City Council, a bond initiative ostensibly designed for “blight removal” on the November ballot. A previous version went down in flames due to mass mobilizations by community activists last November. Already, the City of Detroit owes homeowners at least $600 million in overpayments of property taxes in a municipality which is still ranked as the poorest major urban area in the U.S. After 2014, hundreds of millions of dollars were redirected from the Federal Hardest Hit Funds to demolition projects which created even more blight compounded by the subsequent environmental degradation left by the unscrupulous outside contractors.
During the GBI public meeting on September 14, a representative of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition said that we must move towards demanding rent relief, forgiveness and direct subsidies for housing. Moratorium NOW! Coalition was founded during the height of the economic crisis, popularly known as the “Great Recession” in 2008. Since then the organization has fought for a halt to all foreclosures and evictions along with militantly opposing the contrived emergency management and bankruptcy of 2013-2014. In recent years, Moratorium NOW! Coalition has sought a bailout for homeowners facing property tax foreclosure through the Government of Wayne County. Thousands have lost their homes as well due to over-assessed property taxes which are illegal even according to the laws of the State of Michigan.
Will the CDC Moratorium Resolve the Current Crisis?
Khalifa from DED spoke at the September 14 Detroit meeting on a document she drafted which explains the CDC moratorium. People are being evicted despite the declaration of this policy shift by the CDC which is ostensibly supported by the White House.
A recent report published on the situation in Houston, Texas where the pandemic has taken a devastating toll says that:
“Houston Public Media sent a reporter to four different courthouses last week to observe about 100 eviction cases and found that only one renter was able to use the CDC order to block eviction.
So in 99% of those cases the order was having no effect at all. Legal aid attorneys in Houston also say it’s still too often business as usual at eviction hearings. The judges aren’t asking landlords if tenants sent them CDC declarations. Many tenants don’t show up. And among those that do, most don’t appear to even know about their rights under the CDC order. The judges don’t ask them about that. And in the vast majority of cases, the landlord is given the right to evict them.
“That’s despite the CDC order, in the middle of a pandemic.”
If this is the situation in Texas which is an epicenter for the pandemic, it appears as if the same process is taking place in other regions of the U.S. Many judges are aligned with the landlords who often are wealthy corporations whose only interests are to maximize their profits from renters. The banks have proven time again that they have no consistent program to help homeowners remain in their houses.
Many of the financial institutions culpable in the 2008 crisis violated their own rules as well as federal laws in order to repossess the homes of working families throughout the country. This same process holds true for property tax foreclosures which have been a major problem in the city of Detroit.
Reflecting the national dilemma facing the working class and the nationally oppressed, the New York Times published an article on September 16 noting:
“The order, a moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is meant to avoid mass evictions and contain the spread of the coronavirus. All a qualifying tenant must do is sign a declaration printed from the C.D.C. website and hand it over to his or her landlord. But it’s not as simple as it sounds: Landlords are still taking tenants to court, and what happens next varies around the country.”
Housing is a Human Right: The Need for Another Social System
When the question of the need for fundamental social change in the U.S. was raised at the September 14 Liberation Monday public meeting all of those present agreed. Housing should be a guaranteed benefit for everyone living in modern day society.
Under capitalism in the U.S., housing is not a fundamental right for the workers and oppressed. Millions today are imperiled by the specter of homelessness. Water resources are denied to thousands in Detroit and millions across the U.S. Detroit has been a target for the termination of water services, and surprisingly enough, there are many municipalities which exceed the Motor City as it relates to the rates of shutoffs.
These issues require the transformation of the capitalist order into socialism. Under socialism all people are entitled to housing, water, utilities, education and environmental quality.