Virtual protest held to demand that Gov. Parson suspend rent, mortgage payments

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Mixed in with about 200 other virtual guests getting together via Zoom on Thursday, Springfieldian Victoria Altic made her case for rental relief.

"I don't get any child support from my kids' dad," said the mother of two children who had been laid off from her job as a cook at a local restaurant. "I just don't know what I'm going to do. I got my April rent paid to my landlord but that left me broke. I have no savings left and I don't know how I'm going to make my May rent. My daughter has a health condition and she is at high-risk so to protect her I can't take those jobs at Walmart or become a delivery person. It seems impossible."

She's not alone.

According to national statistics one-third of all renters missed their April payments and more than 15 million households will miss their mortgage payments if the crisis continues into the summer.

So the Coalition to Protect Missouri Tenants, made up of about 40 community, labor, and faith organizations from across the state, organized Thursday's online protest calling for Governor Parson to suspend all rent and mortgage payments, place a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures and ban utility shut-offs.

"The utilities have done a great job of stepping up individually but these are companies and they're going to want to make money at some point and we need to governor to step in and say these are basic human rights," said Annie Rice, a St. Louis Alderwoman.

The group is also oncerned that the homeless population will be growing rapidly in the coming months.

"This is the greatest global crisis of our generation and for us to demand that no one be put on the streets because they don't have any income right now, it's just the right thing to do," said Becky Amezcua, a Kansas City tenant.

The group wants the governor to supply more services for those who do end up on the streets.

"If there was a rent-mortgage suspension during this crisis we would not be seeing so many new faces added to those that are already homeless," said Steve Jacobs, the founder of the St. Francis Worker House in Columbia. "But due to the inaction of the state and federal government we're in a pretty bad spot right now."

Governor Parson was asked about a moratorium on rent and mortgage on Wednesday.

"We reached out to the Supreme Court and talked to some people the other day," he replied. "The courts right now, it's not a priority on eviction notices. So we'll evaluate that every day if it becomes a problem."

"IT IS A PROBLEM!" came the strong reply from Kansas City tenant Tiana Caldwell, who served as the emcee of the online protest. "By no fault of our own we're being pushed to the brink. Me and my family have been here before. We were homeless for six months last year after my second cancer diagnosis."

"The one thing we're continuing to ask people to do it stay at home," added Rice. "But what if you don't have a home?"

Here's the full rundown of the group's demands quoted from their news release:

RENT/MORTGAGE SUSPENSION, RENT/MORTGAGE FREEZE, AND ASSISTANCE

Every month, millions of Missourians pay more than they can afford to keep a roof over their head. This public health emergency will exacerbate that stress, causing millions to face substantial financial loss. We must ensure people can stay in their homes, as a matter of public safety.

--Rent/mortgage suspension: The Governor should institute an immediate rent and mortgage suspension for public and private properties, suspending rent and mortgage payments in full and for the duration of the crisis. No payments, no late fees, no debt. The suspension should last through the duration of the declared state of emergency and the entire recovery period.

--Rent/mortgage freeze: If the State cannot implement a full rent/mortgage suspension, the Governor should issue an order to institute a statewide rent and mortgage freeze. The freeze should outlaw all rent increases and lock in mortgage payments at current levels. The freeze should include a ban on fees for missed or late rent/mortgage payments. Another option is to suspend rents/mortgages for now and implement a freeze during the recovery period to prevent rent increases afterwards. A rent freeze should be tied to a rent/mortgage assistance fund.

--Rent/mortgage assistance: In the absence of Federal action, the Governor should launch a statewide emergency relief fund to provide immediate rental and mortgage assistance to people who have been laid off, sick, or otherwise impacted by COVID-19. This fund should launch immediately and should be accessible to all, without any means-testing, and without barriers to entry, like lengthy paperwork or application fees.

EVICTION/FORECLOSURE MORATORIUM

No one should be displaced from their home under any circumstances during this crisis. Many other state and local governments have implemented eviction/foreclosure moratoria. Kansas passed a statewide moratorium on 3/17.

--Eviction/foreclosure moratorium: The Governor should pass a statewide moratorium on all eviction proceedings, including filings, hearings, writs, and enforcement. Using the emergency powers of the Governor, this action should block law enforcement (sheriffs, municipal police departments, and all other relevant parties) from carrying out any evictions. The statewide moratorium should block non-renewal of month-to-month and all other leases during this time.
Penalties for violators: Many landlords do not adhere to legal processes when evicting tenants. That behavior is even more cruel during times like these, and it should be duly punished. The Missouri legislature should determine severe penalties for banks, corporations, and individuals in violation of this moratorium, including but not limited to fines and/or loss of license to do business.

UTILITY SHUT-OFFS BAN AND UNIVERSAL SERVICE

--Utilities like water, gas, electricity, and internet should be provided as public goods, especially during a public health crisis.
Ban on utility shut-offs: Missouri must follow the example of dozens of local and state governments by issuing a statewide ban on utility shut-offs during the pandemic. The Governor should use emergency authority to call for the ban, which should encompass water, gas, electricity, cellphones, landlines, and the internet. The ban should last through the duration of the declared state of emergency and the entire recovery period.

--Mandate for universal service: Beyond ending shut-offs, Missouri must compel localities and utility companies to restore utility services to all households, even if they faced shut-offs before the ban, and to expand them as needed to execute emergency precautions and communications. Water, gas, and electricity are critical for all households to remain safe and healthy at home. Internet must be provided, through emergency hot spots or other means, in every possible geography to ensure dissemination of accurate and timely information.

HOMES, EXPANDED SERVICES FOR PEOPLE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS

Tens of thousands of Missourians sleep on the streets every night. Those numbers do not account for the people who are un-housed, living out of cars, on couches, in shelters, or in motels. People experiencing homelessness are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

--Homes for people experiencing homelessness: If official guidance is to “stay home” to contain the spread of COVID-19, Missouri must create that possibility for people experiencing homelessness. The State government must take unprecedented action to convert vacant hotel/motel rooms, dorms, schools, hospitals, and large stadiums into homes for people who need them, including people experiencing homelessness and people living in unsafe/unsanitary conditions now.
Emergency sanitation sites: For people who will not or cannot move indoors, the State must build emergency sanitation sites near homeless encampments and major public transit hubs to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Sites should include 24-hour restrooms and showers, laundry, free hygiene supplies, COVID-19 testing, caseworkers, and disease prevention information in multiple languages.

--Expanded services: The State must provide an infusion of resources to local providers for expanded homeless services. Local health departments, community health clinics, shelters, and other frontline service providers should receive this funding to cover staff overtime pay and hazard pay and necessary supplies, like sanitizers, medicine, masks, etc. Funds should go to organizations on a condition of commitment to equity and non-discrimination.

--End to sweeps: The Governor should issue an immediate moratorium on encampment sweeps, closures, and vehicle tows. Sweeps and other practices that criminalize homelessness pose a serious health risk, as they disrupt consistent access to services and the ability for outreach and health workers to provide continuous care.

Read the original version of this article at www.ky3.com.