Cops arrest 22 people in a rent strike in Austin

A rent strike in Texas led to 22 arrests after more than 30 cars brought a local highway to a near standstill and thousands joined in other demonstrations across the country.     

The rent was due again for more than 30 million Americans who have filed for unemployment benefits after losing work in the coronavirus pandemic.

Across the nation, households with dwindling bank accounts face tough choices between putting food on the table and paying the rent — while landlords face their own cash crunch with taxes and utilities due.    

In Austin, residents joined together for a rent strike on Friday to demand rent relief from landlord who are still requiring payments despite the staggering uptick of unemployment in the country.

Residents in Austin, Texas, rallied together on Friday to fight housing officials and landlords in a mobile rent strike that slowed down traffic on I-35

Organized by local group ATX, a few dozen people took part in a mobile protest where more than 30 vehicles drove just five mph to slow down traffic in an act of defiance of housing officials. Some cars touted signs that read ‘No Rent’ and another showed a detailed painting of the city of Austin with the words ‘Rent Strike’. 

But the rent strike was cut short when The Austin Police Department intervened and led the caravan to a nearby parking lot. 

APD took 22 residents who participated in a rent strike on International Workers Day, also known as May Day, into custody for obstructing a highway. An additional two were charged with criminal trespassing.

The vehicles left in the parking lot were impounded.  

The Austin Police Department arrested a total of 22 people on Friday, with 20 people charged with obstructing a highway and two for criminal trespassing

Protestor: ”It’s really frustrating to see us working so hard for justice and to bring these things light, and to be silenced like this from APD is expected but still disappointing’ 

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One woman who attended the rent strike told Fox 7 she’s upset, but not surprised that the rent strike was shutdown. 

‘It’s really frustrating to see us working so hard for justice and to bring these things  light, and to be silenced like this from APD is expected but still disappointing,’ she said. 

She added that the point of the strike was to bring awareness to their cause, not get taken into police custody.  

‘We’re fighting for no rent while we can’t work during this crisis and that was the plan…to bring attention to this,’ she said. 

‘Thousands and thousands of people who are unable to pay rent are going to be liable for evictions, which will follow them for the rest of their lives,’ one striker said. 

‘It’s going to be on their renter history, it will show on their credit and we need to get the word out,’ he added.  

Many of the people at the rent striker were tenants who’ve been personally hit by the sudden unemployment wave.

Austin officials said they don’t have the legal ability to cancel rent payments, but council members suspended eviction hearings and enforcement amid the pandemic. 

On Friday, the City of Austin announced it will launch a $1.2million rent assistant lottery. One-time funds will be ready for 1,000 residents starting next week.  

April saw a third of tenants across the country unable to pay their landlords and the number is expected to go up with May’s check due yesterday.   

Millions of Americans have struggled to stay afloat as the outbreak shuttered businesses, halted jobs and dealt difficult blows to the economy.  

More than 30 million residents have lost their jobs during the pandemic and 3.8 new unemployment benefits claims were filed last week.  

In the United States, 1,150,335 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus and 66,695 died. 

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Meanwhile, more than 12,000 people in New York have pledged to not pay their rent, and activists organized similar strikes in California and Philadelphia. 

In Los Angeles, Fast Company reports membership for the local Tenants Union grew from 3,000 tenants before the outbreak to 8,000 tenants by mid-April. 

Californian strikers set up camp outside the Los Angeles City Hall building while chanting ‘Housing is a human right’ and ‘Food not rent.’

Photos from one striker wearing a face mask with the words ‘Rent Strike’ stitched on it and another called it ‘toxic’ for landlords to still demand rent. 

Demonstrators also drove around the Los Angeles City Hall to honk their horns in protest. 

The Los Angeles Times reports Tyler, a would be rent striker, fell ill before the event. He has yet to receive unemployment benefits and his landlord is pressuring him to sign a repayment agreement that would require him to pay rent sooner if he receives government funds. 

Pictured: a woman protesting at a rent strike in Los Angeles, California, dons a face mask that reads ‘Rent Strike’ on Friday as thousands of Americans demand rent relief amid the coronavirus pandemic 

The Los Angeles Tenant Union saw an uptick in membership as the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit communities, with the number of members rising from 3,000 before the outbreak to 8,000 by mid-April 

Pictured: A protester holds a poster reading ‘It’s Toxic Rent’ and calling for its cancellation during a rent strike demonstration in front of the Downtown City Hall in Los Angeles 

Rodrigues: ‘So many of us here have had to make that decision whether we’re going to use up a little bit of money that we have on rent or whether we should save it for medicine for food and other essential needs right now’

He’s been out-of-work and struggling to pay rent since the restaurant industry shuttered with the closure of non-essential businesses. 

‘This isn’t an acceptable reality that we should just continue to swallow,’ he said. 

Manuel Antonio Rodrigues, who lost his job in March, joined the Los Angeles rent strike to ask Mayor Eric Garcetti to cancel rent for May. 

‘The choices that we have right now is we pay rent, and we’re left without any money for food,’ he told ABC News. 

‘So many of us here have had to make that decision whether we’re going to use up a little bit of money that we have on rent or whether we should save it for medicine for food and other essential needs right now.’

Tenant Alex Mercier, who also lost his job in March, joined forces with his neighbors to intentionally forgo their rent payments.

‘There are people I’ve been talking to who are sick and need their medicine and putting them in a situation where it’s pay rent or medicine, that’s just ridiculous,’ he said. 

Mary Cunningham, vice president of metropolitan housing and communities policy for the Urban Institute, said the housing crisis has only been an issue for far longer than the pandemic.

She hopes that recent rent strikes will encourage lawmakers to fund rental assistance programs and prioritize tenant needs over revenue.  

‘We’ve had a housing crisis for a long time.  We have really clear evidence for how to solve it. Policymakers haven’t taken those steps. If a rent strike can put pressure on policymakers to fund rental assistance, then that is a good thing,’ she said.  

Activists hope recent rent strikes will encourage local officials to fund rental assistance and fight for tenants rights through policy

Pictured: Twins Carmina Calderon, 30, and Claudia Calderon, 30 participate in a protest for street vendors calling for a rent freeze

A rent strike in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, also took place on May Day and organized by One Pennsylvania. 

Photos show two men holding a sign with messages reading ‘cancel mortgage,’ ‘cancel rent’ and ‘protect essential workers. 

Another group of strikers were seen holding a sign that read: ‘Demand the freedom to stay. #Cancelmortgages.’

The Philadelphia City Council introduced a six bills on Friday to protect renters and tenants who’ve been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Evictions in Philadelphia had been halted through May 29 due to court closures and new convictions won’t be considered until June 1, WHYY reports.  

‘We can’t afford to allow our city to come under an avalanche of evictions, both in our courts and exacerbating problems in our shelters and on our streets,’ said City Councilmember Helen Gym. 

‘We really need to come together with a protective package that keeps people housing stable and tries to get our landlords paid.’

An approval will see the eviction moratorium extended for an additional 60 days after Pennsylvania’s shutdown orders end. 

Aryi Peebles said the water in her West Philly apartment cut off in mid-March and, because of the pandemic, they were two days late on a recent rent payment. 

The water returned after getting assistance from CLS, but their landlord still cut off their heat, gas and light.

‘So I had no way to cook. All the food that we had stockpiled, up to $500 worth of food, went bad,’ said Peebles, who is a lead organizer for One Pennsylvania.  

Money that would have gone to rent was instead spent on food to feed her family, Peebles said.

‘It’s not that I don’t want to pay the rent. I wanted to pay the rent, but because of his actions, it caused me to not be able to pay the rent,’ she said. 

Pictured: Socially-distanced protesters carry signs that read, ‘Recovery 4 All’ and ‘Cancel Rent’ during the coronavirus pandemic in Times Square on May Day

Tenants and renters in New York are pleading with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to cancel rent payments amid the coronavirus pandemic as million have lost their jobs 

In New York, a survey by PropertyNext found that almost 44 percent of New York City residents won’t be able to pay their rents on time for May. 

As the coronavirus pandemic savaged New York City, a total of 1.6 million New Yorkers reported losing jobs and many noting that they still haven’t been able to access the state’s unemployment system.   

Some landlords have been accused of trying to hike rent prices up or push out residents from rent stabilized housing.

Donnette Letford, an undocumented immigrant living in Brooklyn, worked for as a home health care attendeant until her employer died from the coronavirus. 

‘I just do the math and there is no way I can pay rent when I’m unemployed. How am I suppose to pay present bills and then make up back rent? I don’t understand,’ she told NY Curbed. ‘We are all deserving of a home.’ 

Tenants across 57 buildings, or more than 2,000 units, coordinated rent strikes to plead with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to temporarily halt payments. 

Cuomo has ordered that tenants will not face eviction until mid-June, but officials fear a ‘tidal wave’ of eviction cases will surface. 

‘This moment is really terrifying, but it’s also quite inspiring,’ said Cea Weaver, the campaign coordinator for Housing Justice For All.

‘It’s in moments of crisis that we’re able to win big things from the first rent control laws in New York state’s history about 100 years ago to public housing and more. It’s in moments like these when we can really push the envelope to envision a totally different world.’ 

Protestors arrived in Times Square to fight rent payments, but stayed inside their cars to properly social distance from each other.  

Pictured: Crown Heights building tenants Jose Sanchez (left), Sean Riley (center) and Stephen Henderson stage (right) staged their own rent strike on May Day

Activists are encouraging even those who can pay rent to withhold payment to force government intervention. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York is among those voicing support for the strikes, which are being coordinated by an array of housing groups.  

But while the activists urge willful nonpayment, many who would like to meet their obligations are unable to. An untold number of those who have been laid off or furloughed are still waiting to receive federal stimulus checks or unemployment benefits from overtaxed state labor departments with antiquated systems. 

Jason W. Still has been waiting six weeks for his first unemployment check since losing his job as a cook at an upscale restaurant in Spokane, Washington. 

Scroll down for full list of eviction moratoriums 

Eli Oderberg in Denver has his mortgage due after being swept up in a later wave of layoffs as the pandemic’s effects spread to the oil company where he had worked on apps to track spills

Out-of-work bartender Luke Blaine in Phoenix got his first check three weeks ago, but now has to pay his landlord again.

And Eli Oderberg in Denver has his mortgage due after being swept up in a later wave of layoffs as the pandemic’s effects spread from restaurants to corners of the economy, like the oil company where he had worked on apps to track spills and leaks.

Federal data released this week show the U.S. economy contracted at a 4.8 percent annual rate last quarter as the pandemic put the nation into a recession. 

Economists expect January-March to be just a taste of the widespread pain being recorded for April-June. 

And while a record number of people have applied for unemployment insurance payments, there are many other out-of-work people who don’t qualify or couldn’t get through the states’ overwhelmed systems.

Out-of-work bartender Luke Blaine in Phoenix got his first unemployment check three weeks ago, but now has to pay his landlord again 

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More than three dozen cities and states, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York state, have put in place their own policies to halt evictions, foreclosures and utility shutoffs out of concern that the economic fallout from massive job losses will push many people to the brink of homelessness at a time when they need to stay in their houses and apartments.

But all this really means is that deputies won’t be knocking at their doors, for now. The money is still due, and delaying the payments just puts off the pain.

Still said he’s filed for unemployment every week, with nothing yet to show for it, since he was first interviewed a month ago, just before he paid April rent. 

His wife still has her job in the legal marijuana industry, and his $1,200 stimulus check helped pay an assortment of bills. ‘But I’m about to hit my savings and I really don´t want to do that,’ he said.

‘I’ve made about 900 calls over the last month trying to find out what´s going on,’ Still said. On April 24, he finally got into an on-hold queue behind 83 other callers to Washington state’s unemployment office, and after hours of waiting, he was transferred to a claims specialist, but then the call was dropped.

It took him until this week to reach a human, who said there seemed to be a minor glitch in his file that needs to be worked out.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has joined with activists calling for a ‘rent strike’ and urging tenants who are able to pay their rent to withhold their payment

A protester drives by in a car with the message ‘Cancel Rent’ taped on during a rent strike demonstration in front of the Downtown City Hall in Los Angeles on Thursday

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Watch video Ben wishes Kate happy birthday as he gives update on husband Derek

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Watch video Landlord posts TikTok claiming she takes tenant’s packages

Watch video Circle of life: Mouse freed from humane trap is scooped up by hawk

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Watch video NYC cop beats man during violent arrest over social-distancing

Watch video Police officers make TikTok video while in uniform during pandemic

Watch video Uniformed police take on TikTok dance trend during pandemic

Watch video Urban explorers venture into abandoned Merthyr railway tunnel

‘It seems to be getting closer, but it’s not clear to me what’s going on at that end,’ said Still. ‘I think I’m the last person who was laid off at my restaurant who hasn’t gotten an unemployment payment yet.’

The restaurant, Clover, remains in limbo. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee this week announced a partial opening May 5 of some recreational offerings like state parks, fishing and golf courses, but restaurant dining rooms and most other businesses will remain closed for now.

Blaine counts himself lucky: He started receiving unemployment checks three weeks after being laid off on March 17. Several coworkers are still waiting for their money after losing their jobs at Fez, a popular restaurant in Phoenix.

‘I feel very fortunate based on what I´ve heard from my friends here and around the country,’ said Blaine, who also was interviewed by the AP a month ago. His boyfriend, Kyle Schomer, still has his job in the tech industry, and is working from their home in a trendy neighborhood of adobe homes. They have a huge vegetable and flower garden out back.

Blaine also said that he and everyone else he knows have received their stimulus money. With that and the unemployment checks, which through July include an additional $600 per payment, Blaine has made ends meet, for now.

‘We will be back,’ Fez management promised on the restaurant’s chăm sóc khách hàng facebook page. ‘We hope sooner rather than later.’

Anything but an opening soon is unlikely resolve the anxieties of people whose savings are running out as the initial wave of service-industry layoffs sweeps up other hard-hit sectors, like energy.

Oderberg lost his job in Denver on April 19, as global oil futures plunged into negative territory following the shutdowns of air travel, factories and commuting around the world.

He said his wife got her first unemployment check after losing her job in retail, but he’s still waiting for his. The Colorado website for benefits has confirmed he is eligible, ‘but I haven’t been able to get through to talk to anyone after making about 100 calls each time,’ he said.

In the meantime, Oderberg has been lining up job interviews in information technology, including at least four this week, and hopes to land something quickly, before he has to scramble for their next mortgage payment for the house he shares with his wife, who is pregnant, and their 4-year-old daughter.

‘From my job, I’m accustomed to planning everything six months in advance,’ said Oderberg. ‘So we’re going to be OK, for now at least.’