(Syracuse, NY – April 1, 2020) Howie Hawkins, who is leading in the primaries for the Green Party presidential nomination, released the following statement today on how the nation should address the worsening of the housing crisis caused by the coronavirus economic shutdown:
“April 1 is traditionally April Fool’s Day. But with the rent due April 1 it is no joke this year for millions of American households whose breadwinners have lost their jobs and income due to the coronavirus economic shutdown.
The difficulties making rent, mortgage, and utility payments are only going to get worse for tens of millions of people. Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis projected Monday that 47 million jobs will be cut this spring, which means a 32.1% unemployment rate. This projection corresponds to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) U-3 unemployment measure, which is what the media highlights. The U-3 measure doesn’t count workers who cannot get the full-time hours they want or who want to work but have given up looking. When the BLS adds in short-time and discouraged workers for its broadest U-6 measure, the full unemployment number is normally around double the U-3 unemployment rate.
The US was already in a housing crisis before the coronavirus hit. 500,000 people are homeless. There is an 8-million-unit shortage in affordable housing for very low income people. 1 in 2 renters pay more than federal affordable housing standard of 30% of income. 1 in 4 renters pay more than 50% of their income.
Now housing distress is accelerating along with the spread of the coronavirus.
I support the rent strikes that have been called to demand relief from landlords and governments. Commercial tenants as well as household tenants are striking. Even some large corporate tenants, like Cheesecake Factory and Subway, are going on a rent strike.
However, I also caution people to do rent strikes in a well-organized way. Withholding rent can lead to eviction. Rent strikes that protect the strikers and effectively advance the strikers’ demands require strong organization and solidarity.
Though all kinds of civic action, including rent strikes, we must demand a federal program to keep people in their homes for the duration of the coronavirus lockdown and beyond.
I support the following measures for an Emergency Housing Relief Program:
- A Moratorium on Evictions and Foreclosures during the coronavirus economic shutdown.
- A Rent, Mortgage, and Utilities Forbearance Program where households may make only some or none of their payments during the economic shutdown. Then, after the economy starts up again, households will have a year to pay the difference with the assistance of a means-tested of a federal relief program to help low- and moderate-income people cover the difference.
- A blanket moratorium on rent and mortgage payments could start a string of bankruptcies among landlords and banks and create a financial crisis on top of the production shutdown. That would make the economic depression even worse.
- Federal Universal Rent Control for the duration, like the US did during the World War II emergency. Landlords must be prevented from using the coronavirus crisis to force out tenants in order to gentrify their properties.
- A New Public Housing Construction Program: The private housing market has never provided affordable housing for all. Landlords and developers seek higher profits in providing housing for upscale clients. It is time to re-commit to public housing as the way to ensure that everyone has access to affordable housing.
As part the Economic Bill of Rights in my Ecosocialist Green New Deal, I have proposed a massive public housing program to secure the right to affordable housing to all. It provides for a 10-year, $2.5 trillion program to build 25 million units of quality public housing. It would build quality developments open to professional and working-class people as well as low-income people, as public housing does in Europe. 40% of the units would be reserved for low-income people to guarantee they have access to affordable housing. As mixed-income developments, this new public housing would reduce the race and class segregation that has been growing in the US for decades.
This new public housing program would also be a clean energy program that builds developments that are energy-efficient and powered, heated, and cooled by renewable energy sources. It would obviously be a large jobs program. By building the units across metropolitan areas near the hubs and spokes of the light rail mass transit systems the Ecosocialist Green New Deal will also build, it would be a program to reduce sprawl, densify urban settlements, and create walkable communities.
The coronavirus crisis is highlighting the underlying housing crisis. We should use the immediate crisis as an opportunity to begin solving the pre-existing housing crisis. Building new public housing should be an important part of the economic recovery from the coronavirus depression.”