More than 400,000 people have signed a petition calling on Congress to freeze all rent, mortgage, and utility payments nationwide in order to prevent a looming "housing catastrophe" as millions of Americans head into April jobless and unsure whether they will be able to afford their bills.
"Millions are wondering how they'll pay their rent or mortgage by tomorrow," said Justin Ruben, co-director of ParentsTogether Action, which organized the petition. "We need additional emergency action suspending rent, mortgage and utility payments for the duration of this crisis."
"How the hell are people expected to pay their bills tomorrow? Rent, mortgages, utilities, and more must be frozen immediately."
On Tuesday, ParentsTogether released a survey showing that just 38% of parents believe they will be able to make their rent or mortgage payments on Wednesday without cutting back on food, medicine, or other necessities.
"This isn't a choice we should be forcing people to make," said Ruben.
An estimated 43 million U.S. households are renters, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council. Wednesday marks the first time rent payments are due since the coronavirus crisis shuttered large segments of the economy and sparked mass layoffs. Nearly 3.3 million people filed unemployment claims two weeks ago and millions more likely lost their jobs last week.
An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released earlier this month showed that nearly one in five U.S. adults have either lost their jobs or seen a reduction in hours as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
"How the hell are people expected to pay their bills tomorrow?" asked consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. "Rent, mortgages, utilities, and more must be frozen immediately."
As Common Dreams reported Sunday, calls for a nationwide rent moratorium have surged in recent days as the economic fallout from the coronavirus shows no sign of abating.
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Cea Weaver, spokesperson for the New York-based tenant coalition Housing Justice for All, warned that the U.S. could see "apocalyptic levels of homelessness and evictions" if lawmakers don't freeze rent and other monthly payments immediately.
— Housing Justice For All (@housing4allNY) March 31, 2020
The Intercept's Aída Chávez reported last Friday that "major bill payments have barely factored into U.S. politicians' response" to the coronavirus pandemic.
"While some states—namely New York—have taken steps to temporarily block evictions, congressional Democrats, with the exception of a handful of progressive lawmakers, have shown almost no interest in addressing the bills due in less than a week, one of the most pressing financial concerns ordinary people currently face," Chávez noted.
One exception is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who on Tuesday criticized New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for demanding a 90-day moratorium on mortgage payments while ignoring renters.
"If you called for a suspension or moratorium on mortgage payments, then we should also call for that same treatment on rent payments," Ocasio-Cortez said during an appearance on "The Brian Lehrer Show" on WNYC.
"We're essentially rewarding and offering preferential treatment to landowners and folks who are more wealthy," the New York Democrat added, "and we're not offering that same kind of relief to renters."