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City Leaders Rally Around a Fix: Cancel the Rent

To prevent a housing disaster, leaders in nine U.S. cities called on state and federal officials to give more support to tenants as the Covid-19 crisis deepens.
With its tourism-based economy on hold and existing entrenched poverty, New Orleans faces a particularly grim housing future.
With its tourism-based economy on hold and existing entrenched poverty, New Orleans faces a particularly grim housing future.Emily Kask/Bloomberg

April 1 means nothing to a virus, but it has worked like a magnifying glass to concentrate the economic sting of the Covid-19 shutdown on out-of-work residents and rent-burdened families. As millions of Americans struggle to make rent — or sacrifice other necessities to do so — a growing cohort of local leaders around the country are questioning the steps taken by lawmakers to protect renters. Representatives from city councils in nine major U.S. cities, including several dealing with profound health crises due to the coronavirus pandemic, used the first day of the month to call on lawmakers to cancel rent obligations altogether.

In an intra-city press conference on April 1, officials in Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Paul, Minnesota, said that Congress and state governors need to cancel rent payments now, echoing the urgent demands of frustrated tenants and activists in those cities and beyond. Apartment residents owe roughly $22 billion in rent, according to CoStar, but nobody knows how much renters can actually afford to pay right now.