Car Protest Demands Increased Government Response to Pandemic

On Saturday, April 25th, cities and towns around the country will mobilize for a National Day of Car Protests demanding rent and mortgage freezes, immediate housing for those in need and the freeing of vulnerable detainees and inmates. KGNU’s Hannah Leigh Myers spoke to Lillian House, an organizer with the We Are Colorado Coalition about the goals and needs behind the action as well as the legality of government intervening in private housing issues during times of crisis.

Listen to the report below:

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The protest includes three major demands to local, state, and federal government:

Signs prepared for the Saturday, April 25th Cancel The Rent Car Protest

1) Cancel all rents, mortgages for homeowners, small landlords and small businesses, for the duration of the pandemic.

2) Use vacant housing to provide housing for all people without adequate housing, including those who are homeless, in overcrowded conditions, and medical workers who need a place to rest without fear of endangering their families.

3) Release all ICE detainees and all vulnerable inmates, those convicted for non-violent offenses, and those who have not been convicted at all. Drastically increase medical staffing and supplies to local jails and state prisons, and guarantee sanitary conditions for all inmates.

The protest organizers cite a study by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project showing once the temporary stay on evictions is lifted an estimated 450,000 people in Colorado – 8% of the population – could face eviction.

In regard to rally’s second demand, government officials and advocates for the homeless have long acknowledged shelter-like environments are not safe when social distancing is encouraged.

Lilian House points to the amount of vacant housing in Denver and across the state as a key part of the solution.

“In Colorado, and this is from the federal census, an estimated 6.3 percent of all housing units in the state sit vacant year around. So that’s 152,000 units which are just sitting empty that people who are in need could be put into immediately,” says House.

When asked about the types of housing the Denver Socially Distanced Car Protest is calling for, House clarified they’re advocating for utilization of apartments with no current residents.

Image provided by Lillian House

“An organization that I’m a part of, The Party for Socialism and Liberation, did research into where exactly these vacancies are in Denver and unsurprisingly the vacancies in Denver are heavily concentrated in the luxury apartment buildings that so few people in the city can afford. We found just ten upscale apartment buildings together have vacancies totaling 1,217 units and opening this housing to people in need could house 2,750 people immediately with one person per room. So that means these vacancies, in just ten buildings, could accommodate the entire capacity of the Denver shelter system plus 750 additional people and under far safer conditions.”

Questions have arisen about the legality of governments influencing private property by freezing rents and mortgages and opening private units to use by at-risk individuals. Governor Jarod Polis has said he can’t cancel rents for those struggling financially as a result of COVID-19 closures. Denver City Council disagrees, unanimously supporting a proclamation on March 13th to protect pandemic impacted renters from monthly housing payments. According to the Denverite, local housing lawyers say the law is complicated, but under the emergency statue put in place in early March for COVID-19, it is possible for governors to “commandeer or utilize any private property if the governor finds this necessary to cope with the disaster emergency.”

Lillian House seems to agree that meeting their housing-related demands is complex but not impossible or unprecedented, “We know the governor has the power to use eminent domain in order to seize or commandeer these buildings… But we do hear a lot the Governor say It’s just not a possibility for them. So why should we not be seeing this at a federal level… There’s obviously precedent for this. Back in the Great Depression in 1934 when people were unable to pay their rent or mortgages the government was able to interfere with contracts during a widespread emergency.”

Image provided by Lillian House

For House, the debate comes down to an issue of priorities.

“Do our leaders do the work and find the solutions to ensure that people are able to survive this crisis?”, she asks. “Or are they more concerned with not infringing on the private property of the landlords and property owners?”

Those interested in joining Saturday’s rolling rally should meet at the Mercury Cafe parking lot at 2199 California S.t at 3:30 p.m.. The action organizers are encouraging social distancing measures and face masks at all times. The organizers are also asking that people not attend on foot but instead join in cars with people they live with or on bikes 6 feet apart. In a press release, the group made clear the plan is not to shut down streets. For more info visit CancelTheRents.org

As of Friday morning, the Facebook post for the Denver protest had less than 100 RSVP with several hundred indicating interest. A recent car protest at the ICE detention facility in Aurora, calling for the release of medically vulnerable immigration, drew several dozen cars.

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