We’ve been in this endless pandemic season for what seems like six or seven years, so I think we can be forgiven for failing to notice how massively our national discourse has shifted from where it was at the end of 2019. Go back in time and ask me whether I thought cancelling rent for a massive portion of American people would ever be a good idea. I might not laugh in your face (although, admittedly, I might do exactly that), but I certainly would suggest that you were perhaps not entirely keyed into reality.
Oh, but what a difference a pandemic and economic freefall makes, because right now and right here, I am going to be arguing for exactly that.
To be frank, I think the moral case for rent cancellation is both crystal clear and compelling. The pandemic has had a truly gutting impact on our economy, with millions upon millions of jobs vanishing since March. While it’s true that some of them have returned, it’s also true that lasting recovery isn’t coming without first overcoming the pandemic, which this present administration seems largely committed to not doing (I’m not entirely sure what “we’re going to have to learn to live with it” could mean if it’s not a complete abdication of responsibility). These are people—entire industries even—who have been thrown out of work because the pandemic forced it. Tossing someone out on the street in the midst of an economic crash is the kind of rapacious capitalism progressives love to skewer, and quite honestly should be beneath us if we actually believe the things we say about the American worker.
But I’m not here to make that case, one others have made more ably than I could. Instead, let’s talk in business terms. The whole reason to become a landlord is to collect rents, and right now, rents are hard to come by. Almost a third of the country is unable to meet their rental or mortgage obligations, a number covering approximately a hundred million people. At the same time, the pandemic continues to depress the real estate and rental markets, as it’s increasingly difficult to actually move house. In New York City, we’ve seen property sales drop by as much as 54%. Many of those who could, fled the city months ago, and there’s no longer an influx of new residents. Vacancies are up. Rentals are down.
So, what exactly do you, from a purely business perspective, hope to accomplish by evicting your tenants?