- As the coronavirus costs more and more people their income, many are demanding a rent freeze for the month of April.
- Some cities, like New York and Los Angeles, where rent is especially high, have already placed a moratorium on evictions, but renters fear this will not help them out in the long run as bills stack up.
- Some politicians have also backed this idea, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asking how it could be “reasonable” to expect people to pay rent right now without aide relief or a moratorium.
- Critics of this fear that a rent wipeout will have a ripple effect that could ultimately lead to a banking crisis.
What States Have Done So Far
As April first looms around the corner, many across the country are unsure how they will pay their rent. Widespread business closures have left millions without income, causing tenants and politicians to demand a rent freeze to protect people during these uncertain economic times.
Some cities and states have taken steps to protect renters and homeowners in some capacity, but activists fear it is not enough. Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suspended mortgage payments.
California Governor Gavin Newsom took similar measures Wednesday night, by getting four out of the five major U.S. banks to agree to delay mortgage payments and stop foreclosures for 90 days. Bank of America will do so for only 30 days.
But this still leaves renters, who are in many cases the most economically vulnerable, in a tricky position.
While cities like New York and Los Angeles have halted evictions, rent payments are still on the calendar. If they cannot be met, costs will only pile up as the pandemic continues, leading to potential evictions and debt further down the road. In Los Angeles, more than 60% of the population spends at least 30% of their income on rent. Some spend more than 50% of their paycheck on housing.
Calls to Cancel Rent
Because of these severe financial burdens, many have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #CancelRent to encourage leaders to forgive April rent payments.
“How can you possibly justify not giving rent relief right now?” one Twitter user asked Newsom. “Your orders forbid us from making income.”
“Deciding between life saving medications and food/rent is highly problematic,” said another.
Politicians on both a local and national scale have expressed their support as well. New York State Senator Mike Gianaris said he believes rent should be canceled for 90 days because of the virus.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also asked how it could be reasonable to expect people to pay bills and rent without aid or relief.
Franchises and Others Push for Leniency
Companies have also felt the economic weight of the coronavirus and have also gotten involved in the discussion of rent. The Cheesecake Factory announced on Wednesday that it would not be paying rent at any of its locations because the decline in restaurant traffic has been a severe blow to them.
“We have to take both into consideration in terms of understanding the nature of our rent obligations and with respect to managing our financial position,” they told Eater in a statement. “We have very strong, longstanding relationships with our landlords. We are certain that with their partnership, we will be able to work together to weather this storm in the appropriate manner.”
Online, this move was received pretty well. Many who have been calling for a rent freeze saw it as a strong example, with some even saying that the restaurant was now “leading the revolution.”
Other restaurants are also trying to be flexible about rent this month. McDonald’s, which does not have its locations pay rent to a local landlord, and rather acts as its own by collecting rent from its franchises itself, is considering deferring rent. Other chains that function this way, like Wendy’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are deferring rent for their locations, according to Business Insider.
Outside of businesses, some landlords have decided to cut tenants some slack on their own, including Kristen Bell and Dax Shephard. The Hollywood couple owns and rents two properties in Los Angeles, and is waiving rent for their residents for the month of April. A representative for the two told Entertainment Tonight they informed tenants over the weekend.
“The message expressed empathy and encouragement, and promised to work with residents going forward as best as possible as everyone learns to adjust to the public health crisis,” the representative said.
Opposition to Rent Freeze
On the other side of this, there are people who do not see a rent strike as the solution to the economic issues created by the coronavirus. While some places have lifted mortgage payments or other kinds of debt relief, that is not the universal case, meaning that solving the rent problem could mean creating a mortgage one. A Bloomberg opinion piece suggested that freezing rent could “ignite a mortgage crisis.”
“There’s pretty much no way around people eventually paying what they owe, ideally with the help of the U.S. government, or else risk ‘turning a health crisis into a banking crisis,’” the piece said.
See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (Los Angeles Magazine) (KQED)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.