Don't just suspend rent, cancel it. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Congress: Either Come Babysit My Kids, or Cancel My Rent

I’m a mother of 6-year-old twins and like millions of other Americans, I can’t pay rent—so I’m going on a rent strike.

BY Jenay Manley

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We need a real bailout for the people, and rent and mortgage cancellation must be part of it.

Rent is due tomorrow, and I—like millions of other Americans—am not going to be able to pay.

I work overnights as an “essential worker” at a gas station. My shift starts at 10pm and ends at 7am. And I’m a mother of 6-year-old twins. The Covid-19 crisis has thrown our future into chaos. I am working 46 hours a week, getting home just before my two children wake up and trying to help them navigate multiple online platforms to keep up on their homework.

About six months ago, I asked my kids’ father to move back in with us so that I could afford rent. The relationship turned toxic again very quickly. I needed him to leave, and I finally got him out in late March. But that has meant that the person who was supposed to be watching my children is no longer around. On April 1, I had to scramble to come up with his portion of the rent. Even after donating my own plasma and using savings, I couldn't do it without help.

I am lucky to still have work right now, but that work comes with extreme stress during this crisis. I am filled with anxiety about catching the virus, as I am exposed to up to 200 people a night while working, and I'm facing huge financial losses due to the cost of childcare. My great-aunt who usually watches my kids when I am in a pinch is in her late 60s. She is at extremely high risk for contracting Covid-19 and has struggled with her health for years.

I’m not sleeping. I’m exhausted. And I'm getting desperate. I couldn't make April's rent without help, and I will barely be able to make rent this week on May 1. By no fault of my own, I'm being driven to the brink of total crisis. How does this country and all of its lawmakers let this happen to people?

I'm not alone in my struggle. Nearly a third of all U.S. renters couldn't pay on April 1. Over 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began. And still more, like me, are working but financially strapped due to the crisis. This week, millions more won't be able to pay the rent. Those who do pay will be forced to make decisions between rent and food, or their medications and their housing.

When I’m not working or caring for my kids, I also organize as a leader with the housing justice group KC Tenants in Kansas City, MO. I also work with the grassroots organization People's Action on the campaign for a national Homes Guarantee. We’re not just fighting for immediate relief. We’re fighting for a different world, in which housing is guaranteed as a human right.

I’ve been living in crisis long before the pandemic took hold. Even before Covid-19 spread to the United States, more than 10 million people were spending over half their income on a rent check to their landlords. I'm always one emergency away from eviction or homelessness, among the 40% of Americans who don’t even have $400 in the bank. Capitalism and racism have built a broken, oppressive, extractive housing system that has always failed myself and other working-class people. Now, we're just seeing that failure more clearly. 

As I see it, members of Congress have two choices: 1) come to Kansas City and babysit my kids while I'm at work or 2) cancel rents and mortgage payments in the next stimulus package. Our representatives will have a chance to negotiate for relief in the next stimulus, thanks to a recent bill introduced by Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act.

We need a real bailout for the people, and rent and mortgage cancellation must be part of it. Today, I'll be taking this struggle to the streets in Missouri, bringing our state’s crisis to the person with the power to solve it, our Governor Mike Parson. And I'll be identifying as a rent striker, politicizing my inability to pay the rent and calling on the government to step up and do something about it.


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Jenay Manley is a leader with the housing justice group KC Tenants in Kansas City, MO, and works with People's Action on the campaign for a national Homes Guarantee.

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