Commentary: Tenants need a grace period to catch up on rent
As the COVID-19 pandemic reveals the many shortcomings of our current economic system, we ask our local leaders to be responsive to the health and well-being of more than a half-million renters residing in this city.
As community organizers who have experienced housing insecurity ourselves, we know the value — and struggle — of preparing for the worst. We know that after people lose their home, everything else falls apart, too. This is why our leaders must adequately prepare for the worst-case scenario right now.
The City Council will vote today on the “right to cure,” an ordinance requiring landlords to give tenants 60 days to pay their past-due rent prior to a proposed eviction. While half of San Antonio tenants are protected from eviction until July 25 under the federal CARES Act, the right to cure will provide the other half of San Antonio renters some protections as well.
The 60-day grace period will give time for folks who haven’t received their stimulus check, or whose unemployment benefits were delayed, or whose income from newly opened worksites will become available soon.
That is all we ask — more time so the most vulnerable among us can have the security and dignity of a roof over their head through and past this pandemic. As though our pre-COVID-19 housing crisis wasn’t causing enough homelessness, the ability of landlords to put families on the street over these next few months, without the right to cure, will lead to a homelessness crisis above and beyond the public health crisis we face now.
Last week, the City Council heard from several landlords and real estate agents about the reasons they oppose a 60-day grace period for renters. While we take note of the challenges faced by property owners, we respectfully disagree that profit loss is comparable to the fate of families who have no assets to liquidate should they lose their home. The tenants they want to evict are making do without food on the table. With the rejection of this ordinance, landlords will ensure tenants have no home either. The poorest in our community cannot continue to bear the heaviest burden and the greatest consequences.
The strength of real estate power at these city meetings is evidence of the imbalance tenants face when they try to advocate for themselves. One property owner argued that not all landlords would immediately evict tenants. However, city officials must not put the fate of tenants at risk and the well-being of our community to chance. This grace period gives landlords the opportunity to keep tenants in their units and avoid the cost of eviction proceedings and seeking new renters.
The argument of the apartment association against right to cure is focused on the “unintended consequences” of delaying payments. Rarely are the unintended consequences of profit-driven processes discussed, such as the Decade of Downtown that subsidized market rate units and priced out working-class families, or the gentrification that results from public investments where working families’ needs are not at the forefront.
It’s the working class that built this city and who must carry this economy forward with their labor — even in the midst of a pandemic. Both morally and fiscally, it is too costly for our city to put the needs of the most vulnerable people aside.
San Antonio has not prioritized the needs of renters like us — a mother of two future leaders and a working person who also happens to be disabled — but we can change that course this week.
There will not be enough emergency funds to provide for every person’s need right away, but a 60-day right to cure is a commonsense solution until we have the hard discussions about power, equity and what it would take to get to a sustainable recovery for all. This could be a starting point for a path toward housing justice in San Antonio.
Kevin LeMelle and Maureen Galindo are community organizers with Texas Organizing Project.
This op-ed was published May 13, 2020 in the San Antonio Express-News.