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.

Jenay Manley April 30, 2020

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

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

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

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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