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It’s the first of the month, and you know what that means: Rent is due.

Like in April, many can’t pay May rent. They were laid off and are without a source of income. The D.C. Council did ban evictions during the public health emergency, along with rent increases. But tenants are terrified for when the eviction moratorium lifts and they have thousands of dollars owed in back rent. Landlords are still filing eviction complaints, further unnerving tenants. Since March 16, landlords have filed nearly 1,000 eviction complaints, according to the Legal Aid Society of D.C., who’s calling on lawmakers to outlaw eviction filings during the emergency and 30 days following it. 

Lawmakers have been trying to give residents cash on hand so they can pay for housing and other basic needs. Giving people money has never been so hard thanks to D.C.’s antiquated unemployment insurance system. Out of the 81,942 unemployment claims that were filed between March 13 and April 21, 41,362 individuals were paid. And self-employed workers and gig workers just became eligible for a program akin to unemployment last week. 

While tenants have received more aid—an extra $600 in unemployment and the one-time $1,200 payment from the federal government—many argue it’s still not enough. The average rent for a two-bedroom is $3,100 per month, according to April 2019 data from Zillow. Plus, there’s the cost of food and health care. 

Now, a movement is growing in D.C. and across the country to cancel rent. Understanding that landlords need to pay their mortgage, they are also calling on lawmakers to forbear these payments. (Mom and pop landlords are in a tough spot too.) The national movement called Our Homes, Our Health is radical, but its advocates argue bold policy is needed. “In 2008, we did not do that, and we’ve seen the consequences—the highest levels of inequality that this country has seen in 100 years and an incredible crisis of evictions and housing instability, especially for communities of color and especially for African-American women,” one of the organizers tells City Lab

The movement is here, in D.C. City Paper profiled local organizers in Mid-April who are calling on the Council to cancel rent and mortgage payments citywide until one month after the state of emergency ends in the next emergency legislation. (Organizers were just on the Kojo Nnamdi Show this week.) They are also organizing their own buildings to do the same at a smaller scale. The Tivoli Gardens Apartments in Columbia Heights—two buildings with plenty of folks who worked in the hospitality industry—formed a union during the state of emergency and sent a letter to their landlord, the Donaldson Group, asking for rent forgiveness so tenants don’t accrue debt. On April 30, tenants heard back. “The Donaldson Group is not able to waive the rent that is due from our tenants,” writes the property manager. “Keep in mind that we are very willing, as always, to work with each tenant to allow them a reasonable opportunity to catch up in their rent, but we cannot simply agree to waive the rent.” 

The DC Tenants Union’s Stephanie Bastek told City Paper canceling rent building by building would never work because it takes a lot of energy to organize. The collection of tenant organizers are already helping some two dozen buildings. Then there are the landlords, like the Donaldson Group, that will just say no. In fact, City Paper isn’t aware of any residential landlords who’ve flat out canceled rent like this landlord did in New York City. So lawmakers need to act, advocates say, fast. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser doesn’t sound too keen on the idea. “We are very focused on making sure people get cash in their hands,” said Bowser when City Paper asked about the movement during an April 17 press conference. And some lawmakers like At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh are more interested in some type of rent repayment program. For the latest emergency bill, Cheh drafted a proposal that’d require residential and commercial landlords to set up payment plans lasting at least a year. The proposal suggests tenants can also use their security deposits. By contrast, some individuals running for office support suspending rent, like Will Merrifield, a tenant attorney, and Jack Evans—yes, that Jack Evans. —Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com)

CITY DESK LINKS, by Amanda Michelle Gomez:

  • There is no mayoral press conference on COVID-19 today. 

  • With 7 additional deaths and 335 new cases, the total number of lives lost due to COVID-19 is 231 and the number of individuals who tested positive is 4,658, as of April 30. Approximately 21,135 have been tested. D.C. saw its largest one-day increase in positive cases last month on Thursday. This comes the same week D.C. reported its lowest one-day increase on April 26, at 51. But D.C. also reported its largest one-day increase in test results last month on Thursday, at 1,056. The most results D.C. ever reported in a single day prior to April 30 was April 3 at 854. On Monday, DC Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said she is observing trends over time, not a one-day change because of this fluctuation. She wants to see a 14-day drop in cases before D.C. can gradually reopen. [EOM]  

  • Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless is hearing reports that no new people are being allowed into shelters. The 24-hour shelter hotline tells WLCH they are trying to create space for social distancing. WLCH asked officials to offer every person experiencing homelessness a non-congregate setting like a hotel room to keep them safe, not deny shelter altogether. [Twitter]

  • Shut out of stimulus money, day-care centers struggle to hold on until kids come back. [Post]

LOOSE LIPS LINKS, by Mitch Ryals (tips? mryals@washingtoncitypaper.com

  • Participate in our voters guide by telling us what you want us to ask local politicians. [WCP]

  • Post announces endorsements for D.C. Council. [Post, Twitter]

  • Ward 2 candidate Brooke Pinto jabs at Patrick Kennedy for mailer from pro-charter PAC. [WCP]

YOUNG & HUNGRY LINKS, by Laura Hayes (tips? lhayes@washingtoncitypaper.com

  • The D.C. Council is looking to compel insurance companies to pay business interruption claims related to COVID-19. [WCP]

  • These restaurants offer halal-friendly take-out. [Washingtonian]

  • Critic Tom Sietsema tests meal kits from area restaurants like Hatoba. [Post]

  • Brookland’s Finest will reopen soon for take-out. [PoPville]

  • Some owners have no choice but to open their new restaurants during the pandemic. [Eater]

ARTS LINKS, by Kayla Randall (tips? krandall@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • The National Building Museum is postponing Shakespeare’s Playhouse for a full year. [DCist]

  • Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company is part of an initiative to commission 10-minute plays you can read for free. [DC Metro Theater Arts]

  • U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo talks about how life and poetry has changed during the pandemic. [Kojo Nnamdi Show]

SPORTS LINKS, byKelyn Soong (tips? ksoong@washingtoncitypaper.com)

  • Serena and Venus Williams, tennis legends who have a deep connection to D.C., will be among the celebrities competing in a live-streamed Mario Tennis Aces tournament this Sunday. [The Verge]

  • A motivated John Wall says he’s keeping notes on which players have disrespected his team while he’s sidelined with injury and vows to return “better than what I was before.” [CBS Sports]

  • It’s time to put the Wall and Bradley Beal “don’t like each other” narrative to rest. Wall calls Beal his “brother” who spent time with him when his mother passed away. [Twitter]

  • The Little League World Series has been canceled for the first time in its history due to the coronavirus pandemic. [ESPN]

CITY LIGHTS, byEmma Sarappo (Love this section? Get the full newsletter here. Tips? esarappo@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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