Our spring issue, “Pandemic Politics,” is out now. Get a discounted subscription today!

“I Don’t Know How I’m Going to Pay My Rent. But I Know It’s Not My Fault.”

It’s been a week since I was laid off, and my husband is out of work, too. Today, I need a rent suspension. Tomorrow, I need a homes guarantee.

KC Tenants are organizing to demand Rent Zero by April 1.

I was laid off last Friday. I found out as I was leaving for the day. In a week of panic because of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, I can’t say I was surprised. But it still hit me hard. I love my work, instructing a course at a community college in Kansas City, helping people learn skills like how to use Microsoft Word. I took myself home and began to organize my thoughts.

It’s been a week since I was laid off, and I’m angry. Whatever initial sadness and shame I felt is gone. Now, I’m just furious. My husband, Derrick, is out of work, too. We have no idea how we’re going to make rent next week.

By no fault of our own, we are being pushed to the brink. We’ve been here before — we were homeless for six months last year after my second cancer diagnosis — and I don’t think I could survive another loss. My thirteen-year-old son, AJ, definitely shouldn’t have to.

In Kansas City, I organize with a group called KC Tenants. We’ve won local eviction moratoriums and bans on utility shutoffs. That’s all well and good, but it’s not enough. My landlord may not evict me this month, but what’s stopping him from evicting us as soon as the moratorium lifts?

We’re working on a statewide campaign to push our governor to suspend rents and mortgages. The political context in our state means that, while we’ll continue that fight, it’s highly unlikely that state leadership will protect workers and tenants like me.

I need federal action now. Before April 1, I need our federal leaders to pass a full rent and mortgage suspension. No one should be expected to make any payments during this time. No payments, no late fees, no debts. Call it Rent Zero.

Rent Zero is a better option than a “rent freeze,” which would simply cap rents at their current rates, but we’d still be expected to pay. Rent Zero, or a rent suspension, is a better option than rental assistance, which probably wouldn’t be accessible to all, and would just put more burden on tenants like me.

Rental assistance is a bailout for my landlord. I would be applying for aid, just to turn around and pay it to him.

Let’s be clear about something. I’ve been living in crisis for a lot longer than the pandemic period. Twelve million people across the country spend half their paychecks on the rent. One — a flat tire or a sick kid — is all that separates people like me from eviction or homelessness. Capitalism and racism have created the conditions for our complete inability to respond to COVID-19 with any semblance of humanity.

In this extraordinary moment, we have a duty to demand more, win bigger, and build power to protect what we win. I love the Paulo Freire quote, “What can we do today, so that tomorrow we can do what we are unable to do today?” We use it in our trainings with the KC Tenants base. The politics of “what we can do today” are changing around us.

Today, I need Rent Zero. Tomorrow, I need a homes guarantee. We can and we must guarantee that everyone has a safe, accessible, sustainable, and permanently affordable home. We need a homes guarantee that will: build 12 million social housing units and end homelessness, reinvest in public housing, protect tenants, and de-commodify housing, prioritizing people over profit. I need a homes guarantee that would provide restorative justice and jobs in communities like mine, impacted by racist housing policy. A homes guarantee can help us fight climate change by slashing carbon emissions and supporting sustainability in our homes.

I don’t know how I’m going to pay the rent on April 1. But I know that my inability to pay is not my fault. It’s political. It’s way bigger than me and Derrick and AJ.