Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A utility box in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighbourhood is covered in graffiti and posters calling for a rent strike. (Photo: Toby Scott/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

"Can't Pay, Won't Pay": Tens of Thousands Take Part in Covid-19 Rent Strike Across US on May Day

"People aren't striking because they don't feel like paying rent. They're striking because they can't pay rent."

Jake Johnson

Tens of thousands of people across the United States are expected to take part in a rent strike Friday under the slogan "Can't Pay, Won't Pay" as the coronavirus-induced economic crisis and government inaction continue to leave millions without enough income to cover basic monthly expenses.

"The rent strike is a cry for dignity: We are all deserving of a home, no matter the color of our skin, financial status, or culture."
—Donnette Letford, New York Communities for Change

The strike, described as the largest coordinated tenant action in nearly a century, comes as state and federal lawmakers face growing pressure to cancel rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis, which has thrown more than 30 million people out of work.

A Business Insider poll released Thursday found that nearly a quarter of Americans are unsure whether they will be able to afford their May 1 rent or mortgage payments.

"The rent strike is a cry for dignity: We are all deserving of a home, no matter the color of our skin, financial status, or culture," Donnette Letford, a member of New York Communities for Change, told The Intercept.

More than 13,000 people have signed a petition launched by the New York-based Upstate-Downstate Housing Alliance vowing to withhold rent payments until state lawmakers meet the following demands:

  • Cancel rent for four months, or for the duration of the public health crisis—whichever is longer;
  • Freeze rents and offer every tenant in New York the right to renew their lease. No one's rent should go up during this epidemic; and
  • Urgently and permanently rehouse all New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and invest in public and social housing across our state.

"Unless our demands are met, many of us can't pay," the petition reads. "So if we can't pay, let's not pay, together! The crisis has caused a reduction in income for many of us, and the government response has been to shore up banks, large investors, and landlords."

Major rent strikes are also expected to take place in California, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and other states across the U.S.

"People are looking for something to join because they don't know what to do," Kenia Alcocer, an organizer with Los Angeles-based advocacy group Union de Vecinos, told NBC News. "The reason why our campaign is called 'Food Not Rent' is because we're actually telling folks to choose your survival, choose your life, over paying your rent at this point."

The growing nationwide call to cancel rent and mortage payments has won support from several prominent members of Congress, including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

"You cannot coerce someone into doing something that they cannot do," Ocasio-Cortez said during a livestream earlier this week. "People aren't striking because they don't feel like paying rent. They're striking because they can't pay rent."

Last month, as Common Dreams reported, Omar introduced legislation that would cancel all rent and home mortgage payments for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act, according to Omar's office, "would constitute a full payment forgiveness, with no accumulation of debt for renters or homeowners and no negative impact on their credit rating or rental history."

The bill would also "establish a relief fund for landlords and mortgage holders to cover losses from the cancelled payments and create an optional fund to fully finance the purchase of private rental properties by non-profits, public housing authorities, cooperatives, community land trusts, and states or local governments."

"In 2008, we bailed out Wall Street," Omar said in a statement. "It's time to bail out the American people who are suffering."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Biden Decries 'Outrageous' Treatment of Haitians at Border—But Keeps Deporting Them

"I'm glad to see President Biden speak out about the mistreatment of Haitian asylum-seekers. But his administration's use of Title 42 to deny them the right to make an asylum claim is a much bigger issue."

Jessica Corbett ·


Global Peace Activists Warn of Dangers of US-Led Anti-China Pacts

"No to military alliances and preparation for catastrophic wars," anti-war campaigners from over a dozen nations write in a letter decrying the new AUKUS agreement. "Yes to peace, disarmament, justice, and the climate."

Brett Wilkins ·


PG&E Charged With 11 Felony Counts—Including Manslaughter—Over 2020 Zogg Fire

"PG&E has a history with a repeated pattern of causing wildfires that is not getting better," said Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett. "It's only getting worse."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Hold My Pearls': Debbie Dingell Lets Marjorie Taylor Green Have It Over Abortion Rights

The Michigan Democrat engaged in a verbal altercation with the far-right Republican lawmaker from Georgia on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building.

Jon Queally ·


Dems Who Opposed Pentagon Cuts Received Nearly 4x More Donations From Weapons Makers

The latest passage of the NDAA "is particularly strong evidence that Pentagon contractors' interests easily take precedence over national security and the public interest for too many members of Congress," said one critic.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo