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Coalition calls for statewide rent, mortgage suspension

For many individuals, rent was due on April 1.

That same day, the Coalition to Protect Missouri Tenants held a press briefing that formally requested a set of statewide changes from Gov. Mike Parson.

Specifically, Parson was asked to implement a statewide mandate for rent and mortgage suspension in an effort to combat homelessness during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and to prevent Missourians from being displaced from their homes during the span of the crisis.

“I’ve been part of the legal team looking at the demands and the things the governor can do under the Emergency Powers Act right now,” Lee Champ, an attorney with ArchCity Defenders, said. “We have determined Gov. Mike Parson has broad and sweeping powers under 44.100.1, the Emergency Powers Act, to take all of the actions called for by this coalition. He has latitude with the banks, landlords, and with tenants. With the swipe of a pen, the governor could take these actions and protect hundreds of thousands of renters across the state.”

The list of demands includes:

  • The institution of a rent/mortgage suspension. This would mean no payments, no late fees and no debt accumulation for the duration of the crisis. In the event that the governor did not want to implement a rent/mortgage suspension, the coalition recommended instituting a statewide rent and mortgage freeze.
  • Enacting an immediate, comprehensive statewide eviction/foreclosure moratorium.
  • Banning utility shut-offs and mandating universal service.
  • Providing homes and expanded services for people experiencing homelessness.

According to Champ, the list was curated by organizers and tenants statewide.

“We put a call out to all the people suffering and asked, ‘Why do you need right now to survive?’” Champ said in a follow-up with West Newsmagazine.

In addition, Champ said that some policies, like mortgage suspension, could also help protect landlords.

The statewide campaign was launched on the heels of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security [CARES] Act, a $2 trillion stimulus and relief package that was signed into law on March 27.

“This is not without consideration of the fact that right now, property owners open themselves up to a lot more protections due to legislation that was recently passed in Congress, the CARES Act,” Champ said.

Some areas have taken to passing legislation to help tenants.

Earlier in March, St. Louis and St. Louis County both passed measures suspending eviction and foreclosure proceedings.

“It also protects the court staff and sheriffs from having physical contact with these people, so there is actually a huge public health piece there in addition to that added protection for renters,” Champ said.

However, according to Champ, the suspension doesn’t go far enough. In addition to the fact that the measure is only in effect until April, it also doesn’t stop landlords from possibly filing a “tidal wave” of eviction suits in the meantime.

In addition, on March 16, the Missouri Supreme Court also made the decision to suspend all in-person court proceedings through May 1.

“How are they [the courts] going to process all these cases that are backing up end-to-end?” Champ asked.

The courts’ current situation is part of the reason the coalition issued the requests to Parson directly.

“At this moment, the governor has the power to provide relief by instituting statewide relief, and he has the power to step into the courts’ responsibilities because the legislature has given him the power to do so,” Champ said.

Another goal of the demands was also to implement measures that would combat homelessness.

“Across the state, people experiencing homelessness, they don’t know what to do,” Champ said. “ There’s little clarity from the government and practically no clarity from the state government what those individuals are are supposed to do. How do you stay at home when there is no home?”

Rep. Crystal Quade, [D-District 132] and Missouri House Minority Leader also called for Parson to act April 1 press briefing.

“This is a public health crisis and I urge Gov. Parson and my legislative colleagues to act with urgency, to meet with folks impacted and to ensure that Missouri tenants are protected and the people of Missouri are kept safe,” Quade said.

Currently, the Coalition to Protect Missouri Tenants includes entities such as KC Tenants, MOJwJ, Action St. Louis, SEIU Local 1, SEIU Missouri/Kansas State Council, SEIU Healthcare, Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, ArchCity Defenders, Equal Housing and Opportunity Center in St. Louis, Kansas Missouri Dream Alliance, Empower Missouri and Renew Missouri. 

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