Archives 2020

The Word for the Month is “Renegotiation”

Each month, in keeping with various regulatory guidelines, those of us who have not been paying our rent in the United States since last spring, whether because we can’t pay or because we believe in solidarity with society, have been writing our landlords a letter explaining why we are once again not producing a rent check for this month. The idea here is that we are stronger together, acting collectively, demanding a society-wide solution to a society-wide problem, rather than the current, very temporary solution of forever extending eviction moratoriums, with no idea what might happen once the moratorium expires. We support the moratorium, we’re glad Oregon has one of the best ones in the country, and we want more. Much more. We want actually affordable housing mandated by law, effective yesterday. For more information you can go to artistsforrentcontrol.org. And while you’re there, if you’re from the Portland area, please sign up for text notifications so that you can be part of Portland Emergency Eviction Response. Another Portland is possible.

Open Letter to My Landlord #7

Dear Randall Group/CTL Management,

(Please forward to corporate, as far up the chain as possible.)

First of all, in this household, we’ve long ago stopped responding to your bizarre annual surveys where you ask whether your tenants are content, without ever mentioning the elephant in the living room.  You give us options to rate how content we are, all of which are designed to reflect badly on your employees if we aren’t happy.  The reason we stopped responding to your survey is because it’s meaningless and pointless, but for the record, we think all of your employees are very nice, and you should pay them a living wage, too.

As unlikely as it is that any of the relevant corporate investors or board members of the Randall Group ever see these letters of mine — this is what your CTL Management, Inc. firewall is there for, to absorb that sort of flak, so you can pretend you’re just playing with stocks — I do try to make them interesting and educational, each monthly update on the rent strike a bit different from the last.  As you know, I also write because it is one of the requirements of some of the relevant evictions moratorium legislation that you be notified each month of whether your tenants’ situation has changed since the previous month, with regards to loss of employment due to the pandemic.  It hasn’t.

But there’s so much more to be said, so much has happened in the past month, as with every month in this very dynamic year.  The word of the month in the New York business press, we are told by Marketplace, the NPR show that I know you and I both listen to every weekday day, is “renegotiation.”  They say corporate clients all over the city are renegotiating their rents, and that they have gone down by an average of 30%.  Still completely, criminally outrageously high by any sane standard, still a number representing a constant sucking sound of most of society’s hard-earned money flowing upwards towards the pockets of folks like the Randalls and the Kushners every moment of every day — but less than it was Before Corona.

Let’s take a quick look back at certain relevant dates and numbers for the sake of context, before I proceed further.

March, 2007:  I moved to this building you own with my family, on lovely Francis Street, in southeast Portland.  Rent for a two-bedroom was $500 a month — a standard amount back then across the country, outside of the gentrified zones that I had been forced to leave in prior years, such as New York, Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco.

March, 2019:  after 12 years of continuous tenancy, paying the rent on time every month, raising our children on the same wall-to-wall carpeting that was here prior to our moving in, you raised the rent annually every March, and by March of 2019 the rent was now $1,175 per month — for a significantly deteriorated version of the same moldy apartment we moved into in 2007.

March, 2020:  weeks into an unprecedented nationwide and largely worldwide pandemic lockdown that completely dominated the news and all of our lives, we received the standard-issue, annual every-March rent increase, as if it had been sent by automatic timer, no human intervention possibly involved.

I’ll stop there in my timeline, because after that things get more month-to-month rather than year-to-year.  2020 has been like that, I imagine you’d agree.  (There are at least some things we can probably all agree on.)  But first I need to stew on this point a little more:  you raised the rent during a global pandemic lockdown.

See, this is when I fully, truly realized what I had already known:  that there is no “you.”  You are just a figment of our collective imagination.  You are not human.  You are a faceless corporate entity, backed by corporate investors from around the world — speaking of which, I’d specifically like to single out the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund putting its oil money into the US real estate market, fuck you very much, your investments are just as destructive to the lives of the American working class as your oil is to the Earth, contrary to your slick social democratic propaganda.  Like your Norwegian oil baron and Russian oligarch and New York billionaire investors, you, Randall Group — theoretically based here in Portland, Oregon in an ugly glass building on Barbur Boulevard — have no idea what is going on, “on the ground,” so to speak.  Or should we say, “in the theater of conflict,” or where your renters live.  You know, that 50% of society that rents, and has to listen to people on TV every day telling us how stupid we are that we haven’t taken out a massive loan in order to invest our nonexistent money in the impossibly over-valued real estate market yet to become “home owners.”

Like the bankers enjoying an espresso in the shadow of the towering statue of the iconic social democratic blue collar worker beside the Norwegian parliament, the Randall Group investors who may live in the suburbs of Oslo or in some gated community in Southwest Portland or Beaverton or Moscow or London would seem to be just as blissfully ignorant of reality on the ground among their thousands of Class C apartment complexes, be they in Portland or Kansas City.  While some of the real, human landlords across the country were doing things like canceling rent for a month and lowering the rent for the duration of the pandemic, actively trying to work with their tenants to get through this very difficult time, as they say, “together,” from your management company there has been nothing but silence, aside from the occasional helpful tip about applying for government aid that has run out, or about keeping the pipes from freezing in the winter.

This deafening silence, of course, is the direct result of your lack of humanity.  I mean by the fact that you don’t really exist.  There is no head on this beast, you’re just a corporate creation, designed entirely to suck the money out of society and feed it to the rich.  That’s why you doubled our rent — not because you had to, but because you could.  And it’s all you know how to do, because it’s the governing formula you gave to CTL Management, a corporate entity that exists only to serve out your instructions — raise the rent every year as much as you can get away with legally, don’t fix anything any more than you need to to abide by the minimal legal codes, don’t pay any of your workers any more than you can get away with.  Not only do I know this is how CTL is told to manage your properties, but you actually award the best property managers for doing exactly the sorts of things I’m describing, every year, in downtown Portland, at a gala event which I have unfortunately had the displeasure of witnessing personally.

So, catching us up to the end of November, from late March, when you raised the rent again.  That’s when we stopped paying, along with a lot of other folks, for one reason or another.  How many aren’t paying because they can’t, and how many aren’t paying because, like us, they believe in something called society, is unclear.  But with each passing month, your silence becomes more deafening, as with each passing month, your management company leaves us with a new invoice, indicating how many thousands of dollars in back rent we owe, all of which will come due as soon as the applicable local, state or federal eviction moratoriums expire.

The thing is, with each passing month, shit is happening, you know?  I know you this.  Whoever you are — and I’m envisioning mostly rich white guys in suits, in different locations, but whoever you are, perhaps a slightly more diverse group than that, I don’t know — you read the business press, like I do.  So you know that even those of us who did finally get money for being unemployed — which in my case took seven months of waiting — that money runs out on December 26th.  Congress is gridlocked and can’t pass any further aid packages, and we are facing what Marketplace referred to a few days ago as a “fiscal cliff.”

Here are some statistics just in in the past month, which I have gathered from reliable, mainstream press reports, some of which you can find, if you like, by perusing the Facebook page of Artists for Rent Control, a network you inspired me to start up some years ago:

  • 1 in 15 people in the US currently has an active, contagious, coronavirus infection
  • over a quarter of a million people in the US have now died, overall
  • 1 in every 1,000 Black people in the US has died of the coronavirus
  • in the time before the CDC’s eviction moratorium went into effect, hundreds of thousands of evictions took place in states without their own moratoriums, which have now resulted in at least 10,000 more deaths from Covid-19
  • among professional artists like me — which includes some of your other tenants, and many of your former tenants who you long ago priced out of the city — 65% are fully unemployed, and 95% have lost income

I could go on with the statistics, but we all know how dismal the situation is for people who are not happily invested in the booming stock market.

What we also know, importantly, is that you really don’t give a shit about us.  Now wait, an astute reader might be thinking, how do we know this?  All we get is total silence from the landlord corporation with each passing month.  Ah, but there is something called Multifamily Northwest.  This is your lobbying arm, where you invest a small fraction of your profits from raising our rents every year, to make sure you can keep raising our rents every year.  Multifamily Northwest makes it very clear where you stand — you are against the eviction moratorium.  You are against the Oregon legislature reconvening in December to extend Oregon’s eviction moratorium.  You have the ear of the governor, who constantly refers to you as a “stakeholder,” while she never refers to us renters like that.  The only stakes we hold, it seems, are the kind we can hammer into the ground to keep the tent from blowing away.

Not that you’re against a bailout of the landlord corporations, or the renters, as long as it means their rent money going straight to you.  But until that bailout can be worked out, you’re against any eviction moratoriums — your dying and disease-afflicted renters with their hungry children be damned.

So, once again, with feeling:  the word of the month is “renegotiation.”  We can keep on kicking the can down the road.  Prediction:  because the Oregon legislature is dominated by people much more intelligent than you, despite all of the money you regularly bribe them with (I mean donate to their campaigns) — people who can read the literal writing on the wall, and know that ending the eviction moratorium would cause untold suffering and death, and have a very destabilizing effect on society overall, because this is the situation, Oregon’s eviction moratorium will be extended when the special session meets in December.

But with the Congress in the state it’s in in DC, whether there’s ever going to be another bailout is very much a matter of question.  We can wait and see — with us continuing our nonpayment of rent, and continuing to encourage our neighbors to join us in this endeavor, and with you continuing to send anonymous invoices each month indicating our mounting debts — and see what eventually happens in Congress.  Or you can break your sociopathic silence.  You can communicate with your tenants, and renegotiate the rent.

There are a lot of other things you could do.  But “renegotiate” is the word of the month, Grover.

By the end of December, there’s only one word any of us will be thinking of, unfortunately.  And it’s one that you bear such a huge responsibility for, because the main reason all those expendable, I mean essential, workers keep going to work every day at their multiple full-time jobs is because they have to funnel their earnings upwards, to fill your overflowing coffers some more.  In fact, you and the system you support through your lobbying groups — through your campaign donations, which always go to Republicans, when they have a chance in a given race — you are responsible in such a significant way for the ongoing stratification of wealth in this country, for the widening divide between rich and poor, between Black, Brown, and white, for the fact that so many parents never see their children.  You did this.  With intention, if by means of lobbying entities and management companies, rather than by getting your own corporate, “invisible hands of the market” dirty.

And that word for next month of which I speak:  take a fucking guess.  Still don’t know?  OK, I’ll give it to you:

exponential.

Sincerely,

David Rovics and family

P.S.  The dishwasher is still broken.

November rent (or lack thereof)

Open Letter to My Landlord #6

If you think we’re taking advantage of the moratorium on evictions, you’re damn right we are. You have been taking advantage of the tacit threat of forced eviction ever since you bought your first apartment complex.

Dear CTL/Randall Group,

(Please forward to corporate.)

I appreciate the advice you’ve been sending to your tenants about rental assistance that is available from the local authorities, most of which, as you may know, actually is not available, because the need here in Portland and around the country far outstrips the supply. This is in the news regularly, especially in the business press, which you and I probably both consume daily.

Since we’re giving out free advice, I have advice for you, too:

Recognize the fact that we’re in an economic crisis, and dramatically lower what you charge. Since we moved in, our rent for this two-bedrom apartment went from $500 a month to $1,200 a month. Property taxes and other expenses did not rise at anything resembling that kind of rate. You did that because you could, and because you are a capitalist creation with no feelings and no conscience. In fact, you’re not human — you’re a corporation, and you do not exist in any form recognizable by the five senses. You are purely a legal entity — amoral, unaccountable, a product of a broken system. You can’t be evicted, you can’t get sick, you can’t be unemployed. But I’ll refer to you as “you” because, of course, humans are involved with running the company, whether they are ashamed to identify themselves by name or not. (As the rent rises, the communication from you becomes more and more anonymous, as you may be aware. Probably tired of all the hate mail from tenants, I assume.)

Portland is the most rent-burdened city in the country, according to the business press, and you are responsible for this situation, very directly, through your landlord practices, and through the lobbying entities you support, that have corrupted our political system.

The situation as it is is totally untenable, and was, long before the pandemic. This, in large part, is why renters in Portland are now over $125 million behind on rent. We were already the most rent-burdened renters in the USA, before the pandemic hit. We already lost more than half of our Black population, long before the pandemic hit. Because of you, and other landlords like you, and the corrupt politicians who serve you. This is called institutional racism, obviously. Although no one is keeping track, I can say from copious circumstantial evidence that Portland also lost more than half of its artists during the same period.

Send in the police (when you’re eventually allowed to), take us to court (when you’re eventually allowed to), or change your ways. Those are your options.

If you choose the latter option, I look forward to receiving a new offer for a rental agreement that is in keeping with basic standards of morality, decency, and human rights. You more than doubled our rent since we moved in to this apartment in 2007. This is reprehensible. If there’s an adjective more reprehensible than reprehensible, it’s that, too. I’m a songwriter, by profession — one of the few left who can afford to live in this city — and I still cannot come up with an adjective to describe how abhorrent the Randall Group is to me, and to any other civilized person.

Don’t send us useless advice about rental assistance. Send us a new rental agreement. We’re on rent strike. (Look it up — it’s a thing, in the US and around the world, it goes way back, and the landlords often lose, if people fight hard enough. In fact, whole systems can change overnight, because of such struggles.) Also I still haven’t gotten any money from the Oregon Employment Department for being unemployed since March. The fact that I’m unemployed and receiving no aid from the state may be technically the reason we can legally withhold our rent from you under the federal CDC moratorium, so maybe that’s relevant on some level, but on the moral plain it’s completely beside the point.

The rent we have been withholding since April is in our savings account, for the most part. We are and have been prepared to pay rent — but not just whatever you feel like charging. We are not prepared to leave this city, like most of our friends have had to do. We will fight back. We are fighting back right now. This is just the beginning of the class war which you have started by doubling the rent on people like us.

The press is full of sob stories from landlords who say their tenants are taking advantage of them by withholding rent that they could maybe afford to pay, even under the circumstances of the pandemic and the economic crash. But what about solidarity with other human beings? What about all those people who can’t afford to pay? Will you evict them all?

If you think we’re taking advantage of the moratorium on evictions, you’re damn right we are. You have been taking advantage of the tacit threat of forced eviction ever since you bought your first apartment complex.

In another, earlier message sent to us tenants in the spring, you inferred that you would have to lay off staff because so many renters aren’t paying rent. So you applied for PPP loans and got turned down? There is zero transparency involved with your landlordism, so we would have no way of knowing, obviously. In any case, appealing to the concern we renters may have for our friends who work for you was a disgustingly low blow. We know who your staff are and so do you — they’re mostly people of color, and obviously so badly paid that they can’t afford to live in this neighborhood.

You were inferring in that email that you charge rent largely in order to pay your workers, which we all know is complete idiocy to suggest. You are a for-profit corporation — and a very profitable one at that, in an extremely profitable industry (corporate landlordism) which you have made sure remains profitable, by bribing politicians in Salem and Washington, DC. What happened to all your profits? Did you lose them? Did they fall out of your socks? Do you have a bank account? Oh, I forgot, you are bankers, and you give your quarterly dividends to the stockholders, who make all the money.

So maybe you really are broke landlords. In that case, a suggestion — some more free advice: sell us the building and we’ll take care of it. Or, on second thought, we’ve already paid enough rent to you to build this building all over again many times, so you can just cut your losses, declare bankruptcy, and we can buy it from the foreclosure corporations, where you buy your distressed properties, that you then turn around and gouge us to live in.

Or, on third thought, if you’re not making enough money from corporate landlordism, why don’t you get a real job? Amazon is hiring. Or you can try being a professional musician. I’ll give you some tips, in your virtual guitar case.

Sincerely,
David Rovics and family