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Coronavirus Is a Housing Crisis. Here’s How We Fix It.

How can you shelter in place if you don’t have shelter? 

We needed a Homes Guarantee yesterday. We need national rent control so landlords can’t jack up prices for the sole purpose of squeezing every last drop of profit they can out of their working-class tenants. (Photo: Jeremy Hogan/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

We needed a Homes Guarantee yesterday. We need national rent control so landlords can’t jack up prices for the sole purpose of squeezing every last drop of profit they can out of their working-class tenants. (Photo: Jeremy Hogan/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Guaranteed healthcare is becoming a mainstream idea. But what about the most basic of all human needs? Shouldn’t we guarantee housing, too? In the wealthiest country on earth, people are dying on the streets—housing is life.

At the dawn of the most threatening pandemic in a hundred years and confronted with an economic crisis that could dwarf the Great Depression, the U.S. Congress took unprecedented, radical action. Millions of Americans wondered: will I get put out on the street because I can’t pay rent? Will the bank take my home because I can’t pay my mortgage? Will the government protect me?

No. Instead, Congress sent trillions of dollars into the void of the stock market and left Americans out in the cold. 

We needed a Homes Guarantee yesterday. We need national rent control so landlords can’t jack up prices for the sole purpose of squeezing every last drop of profit they can out of their working-class tenants. We need to guarantee a home to everyone in this country, not pander to the real estate developers and slumlords who profit off of human suffering. We need just cause for eviction so people can’t be kicked out of their homes for no reason. We need to de-commodify housing and end homelessness by building 12 million social housing units in the next 10 years. 

In the long term, we must recognize that there was an affordable housing crisis before the pandemic and there will be one after. We need massive investment in public housing and anti-gentrification community land trusts, so housing is affordable and community-controlled.

The coronavirus has made this even more necessary and urgent. There are homeless people in Tacoma who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. How can you shelter in place if you don’t have shelter? 

The first and most important step to flattening the curve is staying home. It only makes sense to ensure everyone has a home.

If we can afford to bail out Wall Street again, we can afford to accomplish this ambitious task. How will we do this? Mark Routon, Seattle-based affordable housing expert, says first there must be a paradigm shift and then substantive action: “To address the scope of the multiple housing crises at our feet, we need to view housing as a right, but to do that, we need more housing.” 

In an America where working and middle class are already squeezed to their max capacity, there is no buffer for an unexpected emergency. Undoubtedly, we will see an increase in homelessness as a result of COVID-19. The time is ripe for a Homes Guarantee. 

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The immediate needs are a rent and mortgage freeze and $2,000/month for each and every American for the duration of this crisis. These rent and mortgage payments must be forgiven, instead of accruing as crippling debt to be paid off later.

In the long term, we must recognize that there was an affordable housing crisis before the pandemic and there will be one after. We need massive investment in public housing and anti-gentrification community land trusts, so housing is affordable and community-controlled. We need to invest in communities of color who have been harmed by racist housing policies like redlining. We need green jobs to build and rehab homes. 

Finally—most importantly—we need to end homelessness in America.

The first step to implementing this vision is to elect leaders who don't take piles of money from the real estate industry. What we need is a renter to make policy for fellow renters — someone who, unlike the millionaires in Congress, knows what it’s like to worry about making rent next month.

Tacoma has one of the fastest rising rates of rent in the country, and my rent has risen 16% in three years. I’ve worked on the ground to implement real change for renters in Washington’s 6th Congressional District with the Tacoma Tenants’ Organizing Committee.

I’m running for Congress to end homelessness in America.

Let’s not wait for another pandemic to solve the housing crisis.

Rebecca Parson

Rebecca Parson is a Tacoma Area Disabilities Commissioner, tenants’ rights organizer, and small business owner. She has served as a human rights observer in a paramilitary-threatened indigenous community in Mexico, as an AmeriCorps volunteer, and she worked with the International Association of Genocide Scholars. Parson is the first LGBTQ+ person and the first woman ever to run for Congress in WA-06. 

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