Letter to the editor: Landlords should put the community first

By Trajan Wells, lifelong resident of Iowa City, student at University of Iowa

To the response to an open letter for waiving rent, “Letter to the editor: Landlords can’t afford to waive rent,” where Mr. Harmon presents a case of his tenants destroying property with no accountability, I feel for your situation and urge you to look to the overall demographic of the renters who are hurting in this crisis. Often times misused and damaged property can be solved through an alternative route, legally, and has no real footing in the argument against a normal tenant not being able to pay rent. This is not landlord vs. tenant. It is community member asking for empathy and consideration of the current crisis circumstance of another community member.

The argument presented — that because banks won’t stop mortgages, that landlords won’t re-evaluate the unique conditions of the person for whom they control their living conditions and shelter, whether that be that tenants now find themselves unemployed, unable to work, or in unprecedented conditions of this current pandemic leaving them without incoming cash flows; that landlords will defer any financial responsibility in this chain, to the tenant — is immoral and uncaring. That the person with the least power, least voice, and lowest ability to withstand the harm caused by this outbreak should further suffer solvable outcomes, because they are already down the worst, at the bottom of the economic chain, is unthinkably cold.

And this is entirely due to the fact that a landlord is reliant on another human’s shelter expenses, a passive income source, as the entirety of their own income?

To say that landlords will not think ethically and for themselves, that you will only take orders handed from the rule of the government, is disappointing, disheartening and shows an extremely selfish, individualistic attitude toward members of the community. A landlord is already holding hostage a tenant’s right to housing.

As an Iowa City resident of 21 years and a tenant who finds themselves, among other tenants, temporarily without a stream of income due to proper quarantine precautions, I ask that you consider waiving or deferring rent until the nation and economy have recovered, and the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Leaving those who are taking proper precautions to minimize the spread of a dangerous and deadly disease is to ignore those who are thinking of the very person who is forgetting them, in this time of need, this time of necessary thought. People without work right now are putting the safety and distancing of our social members, community, above our income. Landlords should, too.

To look beyond oneself and to the greater good of society, especially to those hurting the worst in this time of crisis, I recommend learning of the idea that housing itself should be a human right. It seems permanently important that, as we become the most civilized people in history, that even in communities like Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, we can lead the discussion and press forward in making a society that is more well-off, advanced and safer by providing these essential human needs (shelter, food, medicine) to all of those who need it.

Attached is an article from The Guardian on this idea, from 2017. Not a new or revolutionary idea.

In the community of Iowa City, ranking one of the greatest places to live in America, we set a precedent nationally, and should pride ourselves on doing the right thing, in helping and boosting our community. As Americans and worldwide leaders, we can use this opportunity as one to lead by ethical and moral example for communities looking for guidance in nations with governments not so well equipped to handle a pandemic. We can be even better than the bare minimum set by governmental guidelines. We can listen to the concerns of our neighbors, who are hurting worst — those who rely on landlords who own assets, to provide them the basic, fundamental need for shelter.

This is a time to be a part of something bigger, an opportunity to lead. Crisis is a time for lending compassion and solving these problems, when they are at their most obvious. It is a strange time to be alive, which calls for strange and new discussion. In a democratic and capitalist country like the one we share, the best ideas can shine when we give those who carry them the opportunity to speak them, rather than pushing them down farther into debt and poverty, when they are in their time of need. Coming together as a community and leading a charge, setting a tone for the communities, landlords and tenants around us and across the country are the greatest things we can do to inspire a sense of unity and help toward those who need it, in a desperate time like this. I hope the ethical, compassionate and considerate choice will be made, with the members of our community as a whole, in mind.

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