Local Journalism Happens With YouSupport

Tenant Groups Warn Board of Supervisors: Cancel Rent, or Else

The Cancel Rent Collective is done playing nice.

Esteban Pulido, a member of the Westside Local of the LA Tenants Union, speaks about how the existing rent relief programs have failed him, and calls on his representative, Sheila Kuehl, to cancel rent.

On Tuesday morning, a small press conference outside the LA County Hall of Administration kicked off what is likely to be the biggest and most coordinated effort yet to pressure politicians to cancel rent in Los Angeles.

The “Cancel Rent Collective” — made up of organizations including the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Los Angeles Community Center for Law and Action (LACCLA), Chinatown Community for Equitable Development (CCED), the Westside Local of LA Tenants Union (LATU), People’s City Council (PCC), Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), and Community Power Collective (CPC) — is choosing to focus for now on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, arguing that these five people have the legal authority to cancel rent for all the millions of tenants in LA County.

Even though some of these groups are nonprofits with previous relationships with these elected officials, the collective insists that they are no longer willing to be nice and polite, and will instead escalate their tactics as necessary to get what their communities need.

Many involved see this oppositional posture as increasingly necessary given the timidity and unwillingness to criticize local politicians of other coalitions advocating for tenant protections during COVID-19.

Groups like PCC and LATU have already been going to the homes of elected officials to demand rent cancellation, but this appears to be the first time a coalition this broad has taken up the issue with such force.

Tactics like these are clearly on the table for the Cancel Rent Collective. Last week, after Supervisor Hilda Solis repeatedly refused to meet with members of the LACCLA who are burdened with rent debt and facing eviction, they showed up to her home in El Monte to hold a meeting on her front lawn. Although LACCLA was not acting with the entire coalition at that point, expect actions like these happen with increasing frequency soon.

At the press conference, Esteban Pulido, a member of the Westside Local of LATU, shared his story about how the current rent relief programs on offer are completely inadequate. He and his wife both have lost work, but, he says, “health bills did not stop. Grocery bills did not stop. And the rent did not stop.”

He was one of the lucky few who won $2,000 in rent relief from the City of LA — but there are major caveats. For one, Esteban’s not even sure if his landlord has accepted the money. “To date, they have not responded to the rent relief application except by trying to get us to sign a form that locks us into paying back rent ahead of what we can afford.”

Plus, even if his landlord does accept, he’ll still be $7,000 in debt. By the end of January, he’ll owe his landlord $18,000.

Esteban called on his representative, Sheila Kuehl, to cancel the rent to relieve those in similar positions as his family. His story is just one of several that were shared at the press conference, all with the same demand: cancel the damn rent.

The Cancel Rent Collective also released a statement prior to the press conference, which is reproduced below:

As we are on the cusp of a historic eviction crisis, our elected officials are failing us. For months it has been clear that hundreds of thousands of families in LA County cannot pay rent and are vulnerable to being thrown on the street during this global pandemic and economic collapse. Even the best policies on offer will leave households with unmanageable rent debt.

And yet the five members of the LA Board of Supervisors sit on their hands, offering us nothing but platitudes and half-measures that do not come close to matching the scale of this crisis.

The solution is obvious: rent needs to be cancelled. Anything less will result in untold harm to our communities and an explosion of unhoused families. This is quite literally a matter of life and death, and Black and Latinx people will be disproportionately impacted. But this racialized crisis can be avoided if our elected officials are willing to put people over profits, and act boldly.

This moment demands urgency. We will not settle for anything less than what our people need.

We will no longer be nice, or polite, or play into norms of respectability politics.

We demand the cancellation of rent for all of L.A. County renters — no rent should be owed during this pandemic, period. We also demand meetings with the supervisors themselves — no more dealing with staff members as the elected officials refuse to meet with their constituents.

If our demands are not met, we are organized and we are ready to fight. We have no other choice.

Jacob Woocher is an organizer with the Los Angeles Tenants Union