Kamala Harris wants to 'cancel rent' even if it destroys America in the process

Harris believes she is doing the right thing by renters, but she is sealing the fate of American cities to be a mess of crumbling infrastructure.
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

Americans are falling behind on rent. In cities where the coronavirus lockdown stole people's livelihoods, and most people were already renters, the problem has compounded. In New York City alone, a housing market that is dominated by rentals, 25 percent of renters haven't paid rent since March. Kamala Harris thinks they shouldn't have to.

Writing in Essence about her proposed RELIEF Act, Harris makes note of the COVID crisis and how it's thrown so many American families out of whack. But what she proposes, under the guise of help, will undoubtedly only make things worse.

Harris would like to ban evictions for renters and foreclosures for home owners for a year. She wants to prohibit rent increases "during the pandemic," however long that lasts and by whatever metric we use to measure it. A nationwide eviction moratorium that has been in place for months is set to expire, and it spells catastrophe for many.

Her legislation would allow renters up to 18 months to repay back rent. And it would ensure that there would be no penalty, in the form of a negative credit report, for missing rent payments altogether. Harris would ask states to provide legal protections for renters, as well, in the form of legal aid and state attorneys.

While it is tempting to say "cancel rent," and for many on the left it feels like a victimless position, it is not a sustainable idea. Landlords are not massive monolith international conglomerates who don't need the money, they are people who make a living off of their property.

A recent landlord in Connecticut was decapitated by a tenant who didn't feel like he had a responsibility to pay rent, though he had signed a lease and said he would do so.

A survey conducted of New York City landlords discovered that the lack of rental income on their properties was making it impossible for 39 percent of them to make their full property tax payments, while six percent weren't able to pay even a portion of that. In fact, the city that never sleeps is "bracing for hundreds of millions of dollars in delinquent property tax payments," according to Bloomberg.

New York recently elected two individuals to the State Assembly who ran on the platform of cancelling rent. These people believe they have the best interests of New Yorkers at heart, but what may work best for individuals and families in the short term will spell complete, unmitigated disaster for cities, and those who live in them.

If landlords aren't paying mortgages because they are not collecting rent, and they are not paying property taxes for the same reason, and New York, just to give one example, counts property tax as the city's largest source of revenue—$24 billion in 2017 alone—what will happen to the city? How will the city pay its bills, or fund Harris' plans?

How will the city move funding to education if there is no funding? How will cities pay for infrastructure maintenance or improvements or any of the things that make life livable? Canceling housing payments is not a one-sided transaction. Renters, landlords, cities, and banks will all suffer for it.

Landlords who are not paying mortgage and not receiving rent for occupied buildings are still liable and responsible—by law—for the maintenance and utilities on those buildings. When tenants complain about broken elevators, missing lightbulbs, or any other problems in the buildings, the landlords will be blamed. The cities will hold landlords accountable for not being able to keep their property secure after the government has taken away their ability to do so.

Buildings will fall into ruin under Harris' plan. Landlords who are unable to pay their costs will not be able to keep their properties livable. New York will fall back into the bad old days of slum lords and scary buildings where people are grateful just to get from the front door into their apartments safely.

Harris believes she is doing the right thing by renters, but she is sealing the fate of American cities to be a mess of crumbling infrastructure. When renters do not pay rent, landlords do not pay mortgages, and banks have less money to lend. This practice of cancelling rent will directly increase housing insecurity when banks are unable to lend to new home buyers because they simply do not have the funds.

Harris wants to turn American cities into really scary places because she thinks it is the compassionate thing to do. It isn't. It will instead directly result in a decline in quality housing, city infrastructure, and make it impossible for would-be buyers to access the American dream of home-ownership.

We need a plan, but depriving landlords and cities of necessary funds to rebuild is not going to help; it's only going to make things worse and send America, and its cities, further into decline.

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Libby Emmons
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