Millions of Americans face homelessness with the expiration of the federal Covid-19 eviction ban and unemployment benefits. But instead of encouraging landlord-tenant cooperation, the media are hyping stories of violence and fear.
The economic suffering American families have already faced at the hands of incompetent government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic pales in comparison to the looming “tidal wave of evictions” poised to soak the nation after a federal moratorium expired last month.
Families who thought “moratorium” meant they didn’t have to pay those three months’ rent are getting a rude awakening, learning they’re on the hook for the entire sum just as the $600 weekly unemployment payments many received after virus-related lay-offs have also dried up. A financial bottomless pit is about to swallow millions.
Those hoping to remain sheltered could negotiate with their landlord, given that small landowners – those with just a few buildings – are likely to be just as worried about the end of the moratorium as their tenants.
A few missed rent payments translate to building owners missing their mortgage payments and the bank – or some rapacious private equity firm – taking away their property. They’re likely to be eager to make a deal to get some payment rather than evict a tenant and get nothing at all.
But the media establishment would apparently rather see these two groups at each other’s throats – literally – than working together. Last week, a Connecticut man supposedly used a samurai sword to decapitate his landlord after a rent dispute, a somewhat dodgy story which nevertheless received extensive media coverage – and no doubt succeeded in striking fear into the hearts of building owners already jittery about their futures in post-pandemic America.
The newly-headless landlord, retired insurance exec and semi-famous bridge player Victor King, supposedly ran to Hartford police the day before his death to report tenant Jerry David Thompson had waved the sword at him threateningly when he tried to collect rent.
The next day, King was found decapitated in his home, where investigators went just hours after the man’s friends said they couldn’t reach him – although cops typically tell worried friends to wait as long as 24 hours before filing missing person reports if the missing individual is an adult.
Thompson, identified as a suspect by these same watchful friends, was quickly arrested – only to refuse to say anything to investigators, supposedly claiming he was a “sovereign citizen” and not subject to US law.
Establishment media have largely framed tenants’ options as binary: “rent strike” or bust. There’s no allowance for a building owner who’d rather get a few hundred dollars from tenants every month than throw them out into the street, allowing him to pay his mortgage and keep his building. Stories like the sword-wielding tenant ensure this hostility runs both ways – tenants are framed as deadbeats, scammers and, now, violent criminals.
With a continuation of either the moratorium or unemployment benefits snarled in Congress for the foreseeable future, the only legal barrier left to stop as many as 40 percent of US renters from being turned out into the streets is a 30-day waiting period mandated by the original CARES Act coronavirus bailout.
It doesn’t apply to all renters, and likely does not protect tenants (like Thompson) living in single-family homes or buildings with four or fewer units. It also only lasts until August 24, at which point housing courts will be swamped with eviction cases unless Democrats and Republicans can reach an agreement on another Main Street bailout – an unlikely prospect, given the approaching election and both parties’ unalloyed glee for pinning Americans’ suffering on the other party.
An eviction on one’s record makes it very difficult to get another apartment, creating a vicious cycle in which those thrown out of one place become prey for slumlords who take advantage of their desperation to slap ruinous terms on their next rental. As more small landlords fail, this model is perversely rewarded, as it was in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, when private equity giant Blackstone Group scooped up hundreds of thousands of delinquent properties and rented them out, only to put the squeeze on tenants.
The vulture firm showered renters with endless, unpayable fees for minor or imaginary violations with such zeal that the United Nations actually cried foul. Blackstone was accused of “wreaking havoc” on communities and making a global housing crisis worse.
Instead of punishing Blackstone and its ilk for bleeding the working class dry, however, the US government has rewarded them. Blackstone spinoff BlackRock, the asset management giant that now does much of the Federal Reserve’s trading for it via investment vehicles created as part of the Covid-19 bailout, is getting into the mortgage market.
Blackstone executives have consulted on New York and neighboring states’ economic reopening policies – a case of the fox advising the henhouse that has triggered over 100,000 business closings in New York alone (a third of all businesses in New York City are likely gone for good as of Monday, according to the New York Times).
Establishment stalwarts from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to Bloomberg have acknowledged that this fiscal devastation has been especially harsh on minorities – business owners and residential renters alike.
But not even the possibility of being exposed as raging hypocrites, throwing the black community under the economic bus while shouting “Black Lives Matter,” will force the political class to stand up for their constituents. Unity and cooperation don’t get people to the voting booth – division sells. The only color that really matters in Washington is green.
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