EVICTED: City-hired movers carry out a former tenants’ belongings from a house in Norwalk, Ct. | Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Newspapers via AP
Originally published in the People’s World on April 19, 2023
HARTFORD, Conn.—Tired of the same old system, a rising movement is organizing around the cornerstone principle that all people have the right to housing. In Connecticut, the movement is organizing for secure and stable housing as a means of creating a fairer, more stable, and more reliable democracy that puts the interests of working people before the interests of profit.
Last week, the Connecticut Communist Party USA issued an urgent program calling on all communities in the state to declare a housing emergency. The program grew out of the chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic and the formation of a broad coalition of struggle to address working class needs, specifically the need to be free from arbitrary and aggressive evictions and the need for affordable housing.
The program, available online in full, draws a picture of a small state that has been hammered by an aggressive inflow of capital that has destabilized communities and harmed working renters and homeowners in the name of profit.
Recognizing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where the United Nations stated all people have the right to housing, the program critiques the capitalist system that routinely fails to provide for the needs of people, opting instead to commodify housing in order to provide maximum profits for a corporate ruling class at the expense of people and planet.
The program describes in great detail the crisis in Connecticut that was kicked into overdrive by COVID-19. For example, the program makes clear that during the pandemic institutional investors like Blackstone and UBS Realty Investors flocked to the state for the sole purpose of land speculation, to flip housing, and jack up rents.
At the same time, big business in the state thrived; 12 Connecticut billionaires acquired $15 billion in value while essential and low-wage workers struggled to get by.
This squeeze on working people—being pressed in a vice of land speculation and capitalist exploitation—has caused wild disruption in housing and is gutting communities. For example, as rents have risen, 68% of workers in Connecticut now spend more than half their income on rent. This incredible pressure has led to a rise in homelessness for the first time in ten years.
The state has struggled to provide for the needs of the people being thrown into homelessness: Only one third of the people who call 2-1-1 for emergency housing are able to get placements—the remainder are left outside.
The program explains that the burden of high rent and evictions is borne disproportionately by Black and Latino residents, who are twice as likely to be evicted than white renters. Likewise, working mothers account for 56% of eviction filings, and the LGBTQ community and the undocumented are subjected to disastrous rates of discrimination and harm.
Despite these horrendous conditions, the program notes that the movement is rising and winning victories, raising class consciousness around the issue of landlord speculation along the way. For example, a diverse working-class coalition of housing activists in Connecticut won action by the state legislature establishing Right to Counsel in 2021, a program that gives tenants the right to an attorney in housing court.
This program has blunted arbitrary and aggressive evictions, as 76% of tenants with a lawyer are able to now avoid an eviction judgment and 71% are now able to avoid involuntary moves.
Building off that victory, door-knocking across the state was launched to build support for a statewide 2.5% rent cap. The coalition expanded to include unions and community groups. This broad coalition of working-class organizations organized hundreds of people to give their testimonies to the legislature’s Housing Committee in a hearing that ran 20 hours through the night and into the morning.
Workers sharing horror stories of eviction and severe hardship that resulted from skyrocketing rents—sometimes doubled rents imposed with little notice—far outnumbered the corporate landlords five-to-one in the longest public hearing in living memory.
While corporate interests were able to block legislation in this session, the movement carries on, as 72% of Connecticut workers continue to demand a cap on rent.
The program closes with a ten-point emergency program directed at local and state governments:
- Immediately declare a state of emergency and continue and expand all protections against evictions and foreclosures put in place during the pandemic.
- Enact a 2.5% annual rent cap, coupled with rules preventing rent increases from one tenant to the next and a prohibition on no-cause evictions.
- Eliminate systemic inequalities and discrimination; enforce anti-discrimination laws against redlining and other harmful practices by large landlords and lenders; require municipal zoning laws that allow for multi-family and affordable housing units; enact rules that seal eviction and foreclosure records so landlords cannot use that information to discriminate against tenants who enforce their rights.
- Require representative fair rent commissions in all municipalities and give standing to tenant unions before those commissions; defend the right to organize tenant unions and enact rules that require the recognition of those unions by their landlords.
- Allocate sufficient resources to expand the Right to Counsel program to cover every municipality in the state.
- Expand state and federal rental assistance for low- and moderate-income households, including for the unhoused.
- Enforce equal protection from environmental and health hazards in housing.
- Increase real estate conveyance taxes and fees on the large investors buying up single family and rental properties and use those funds to create affordable units.
- Enact the Equity Agenda put forth by Recovery for All to tax the rich and provide relief to renters and homeowners. The Equity Agenda would increase revenue by $1.24 -1.44 billion per year through a 2-mill statewide property tax on commercial and residential properties worth more than $1.5 million, a 5 percent surtax on capital gains for people earning more than $500,000, raising the corporate tax rate, and a 10 percent digital advertising tax on companies earning more than $10 billion. It would create three new tax brackets with higher tax rates for people earning more than $1 million, $10 million and $25 million. The agenda includes tax relief for the poor and middle class by spending annually: $49 million to maintain the state’s income tax credit; $250 million to double the child tax credit to $500; $180-240 million to double the property tax credit to $600; and $180-240 million to provide property tax relief to seniors.
- Make a historic national public investment in affordable housing by reallocating funds from the excessive military budget to our communities as part of a just transition to a green, peace economy.
The report concludes with a quote from a working-class mother of color. In Spanish, she recounted her children’s struggle with a recent eviction and unhealthy living conditions: “It is stressful and inhuman not to find affordable housing, because it is a human right to have a roof and stay in the community. Displacement is abusive much more for children.”
The movement is stepping forward.
C.D. Carlson writes from Connecticut.