“There’s no jobs, there’s no rent:” USF student organizing a rent strike

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Unemployment applications in the U.S. continue to set records because layoffs are accelerating in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic; all those people out of work means that people are struggling to pay for necessities like rent.

On Thursday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said he is ordering a suspension of foreclosures and evictions for 45 days.

Still, there are many communities around the world, and even right here in Tampa, that advocate for a rent strike.

Ryan Cocks is with Tampa DSA, Democratic Socialists of America, and with their University of South Florida affiliate, YDSA. He’s a USF student and works part-time at a restaurant, but his work hours have been reduced. He is helping to organize a rent strike for students who live at Campus Palms Apartments near USF.

What is a rent strike and why are you trying to organize it?

“A rent strike is when a community tactically withholds rent en masse in order to negotiate with their landlords and protect tenants who can’t pay from evictions.

“Rent Strike 2020, another group that we’re organizing with, is a national campaign trying to secure a rent freeze in all 50 states. We’re trying to apply their practices in our backyard with the help of Tampa Bay DSA and USF YDSA.

“Right now we’re operating under a simple premise: there’s no jobs, there’s no rent.

“Rent strikes are about working together as a community. When one person not paying their rent has to worry about getting kicked out of their home, their neighbors can step up not pay rent in solidarity and give us the safety in numbers we need and the ability for our voices to be heard.

“Individually this isn’t something that one person can get done. It’s about community. It’s about protecting those who can’t get it done.

“We want to expand these practices across Tampa. We have petitions for rent cancellation for USF off-campus housing up on change.org that we’re attempting to share.

“We will be updating that campaign with another petition for a Hillsborough-wide rent cancelation.

“To stay updated, sign the petition to enact rent cancelation and forgiveness for USF off-campus housing.”

We’re learning today that 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week for the first time, which shatters the previous record. What can you say about why rent strikes right now are something that might be needed?

“It’s about people getting their needs met. As you said, unemployment is a huge issue right now. Initially, I thought we could tackle this issue with a soft touch. I wanted to start a petition for a rent and eviction freeze here at Campus Palms Apartments. Some of the other residents and I were worried about making rent, facing those layoffs or reduced hours.

“But management was refusing to work with us, wanting to work one-on-one. That just means they wanted to tell us that they wanted the full rent individually. Even if that’s two or three weeks later, if you’re not working now, you’re not going to have that money later.

“It was clear that our only path forward is to stand together as a community. Having been in correspondence with my neighbors and asking about their needs and hearing some of those stories about people touched by the economic effects of coronavirus are just heartbreaking.

“People are choosing between food and rent. I’m getting calls from folks saying I can’t sleep at night, I’m worried about making rent. People wanting to take out loans for this.

“There’s really no options and there’s no support from apartment management. That’s why we’re stepping in with community support.”

If there’s anything that we didn’t get to on this call, you can tell me about now. And finally, what can people do.

“The last thing I wanted to say was how to get involved. If you’re interested in starting a rent strike campaign of your own please contact Tampa DSA over Facebook. For resources on how to start a rent strike, contact Rent Strike 2020 on their website RentStrike2020.org or use the link tinyurl.com/rs-organizingtoolkit.

We’re spreading the message out and I hope to see this take place all over Tampa. We’re hoping for a mass rent strike this upcoming May 1.”

Listen:

 

WMNF requested an interview with Campus Palms Apartments. They declined and sent a statement instead:

Unfortunately We will not be available to attend your interview today. However, here is our written statement:
We understand that COVID-19 has negatively impacted our residents and their families. At this time we are meeting with residents individually if they are experiencing financial hardships due to COVID-19 and making arrangements accordingly.
Thank you,
Campus Palms Apartments

Listen to the 5:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 2 April 2020:

Listen to the 4:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 2 April 2020:

Listen to the 3:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 2 April 2020:

 

The Hillsborough County Health Department announced Thursday that two more people died in the county Tuesday who were diagnosed with COVID-19. One was 68 years old and the other was 86.

According to the state’s Department of Health website, there have been 8,010 positive cases of COVID-19 in Florida as of Thursday morning. 128 people have died.

Here’s the county-by-county breakdown of the number of people who have tested positive for coronavirus in the Tampa Bay area:

In Hillsborough, there are 372 (with 5 deaths), in Pinellas 239 (with 6 deaths). There are 73 in Manatee (with 3 deaths), 100 in Sarasota (with 5 deaths), 28 in Charlotte, 57 in Pasco (with 2 deaths), 30 in Hernando, 23 in Citrus (with 2 deaths) and 92 in Polk (with 2 deaths).

Hillsborough County Emergency Management has acquired 1,000 additional testing collection kits from the State of Florida and will be extending the operations of the COVID-19 community testing site at Raymond James Stadium through next Wednesday if supplies last.

The site is open from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. on weekdays only. Drive-thru testing will be administered by appointment only to symptomatic patients who have pre-registered through Hillsborough County’s call center. The number for pre-screening & appointments is 813-272-5900.

More than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week. That far exceeds a record high set the previous week. Last week’s figure is much higher than the previous record of 3.3 million reported for the previous week. The surging layoffs have led many economists to envision as many as 20 million lost jobs by the end of the month.

The federal government reported Thursday that 227,000 Floridians initiated unemployment claims last week, up from 74,313 the previous week. State officials say they’re working to accommodate the spike in claims despite being overwhelmed.

The surging layoffs have led many economists to envision as many as 20 million lost jobs in the U.S. by the end of the month.

information from the Associated Press was used in this report