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Contemporary Housing Struggles: Crises, Activism, and Critical Research

In this series, Metropolitics focuses on the intersection of organizing, technology, politics, and policy in urban rental housing struggles. It seeks to place the increasing salience of contemporary housing struggles in the context of the transformation of urban housing markets following the financial crisis and the additional precarity induced by Covid‑19.

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The US federal eviction moratorium will expire at the end of March. The original moratorium, issued by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in early September 2020, surprised many activists, housing advocates, and landlords. Some landlords have sought to weaken the moratorium in federal court, with limited success (Capps 2020, Dolmetsch 2020). The federal moratorium replaced a patchwork of policy responses across the US, creating a floor, but not all local courts followed the moratorium, and others chose to follow more lenient guidance issued by the former administration (Ernsthausen and Simani 2020, NLIHC 2020, PESP 2020). These policies were largely due to pressure from activists and housing advocates who foresaw the looming crisis spurred by the Covid‑19 pandemic. These activists were joined by newly formed tenant unions organizing to respond to the crisis in their buildings and neighborhoods. Though the moratorium has limited some evictions, corporate landlords increased filings following the CDC order, informal evictions continue unabated, and local judges continue to make exceptions allowing for certain types of evictions (PESP 2021, Penzenstadler and Salman 2020, Stark and Cronkleton 2021).

Activists and housing organizers continue to push for policies that allow people to stay in their homes and to address growing rental debts accumulated during the crisis. Estimates of the number of renters behind on rent range from 7 million to 14.2 million, with a total of $13.2 billion to $52.6 billion in unpaid rent (Goodman et al. 2021). The depth and strength of housing movements built over the past decade are reflected in broad calls to cancel rent; federal, state, provincial, and local eviction moratoriums; and the resurgence of rent-control measures on ballots in North America. A significant body of critical housing research published in the last 10 years backs these calls, with a focus on the systemic and structural inequalities in the housing market, particularly those exacerbated by the mortgage and financial crises that began in 2008.

These crises reshaped housing markets across the US and the terrain on which young organizers are now operating. The last decade has produced massive ownership consolidation, the continued financialization of housing and rental markets, rising rents, and increasing eviction rates. In response, activists, organizers, and academics have strengthened, rebuilt, or formed new organizations. In echoes of earlier housing struggles a generation ago, tenants and activists have staged takeovers: occupying vacant housing owned by speculators and municipal governments (Everett 2020, Akers 2017). A growing collaborative ecosystem utilizes data and digital mapping to develop organizing strategies and target bulk landlords, speculators, and serial evictors.

This series examines the intersection of organizing, technology, politics, and policy in urban rental housing struggles, with a particular emphasis on the US. It seeks to place the increasing salience of contemporary housing struggles in the context of the upheaval and transformation of urban housing markets that followed the mortgage and financial crisis, and the further precarity induced by Covid‑19.

These struggles take on increasing importance not only as people’s health and welfare are threatened by the potential waves of evictions due to a pandemic economy, but also as another massive reorganization and consolidation of property ownership is likely to result from the foreclosures that will follow the pandemic.

Over the next few months, Metropolitics will publish articles and interviews on housing movements and the way they are engaging with the current eviction crisis, have adapted to changes in housing markets, and are deploying critical cartography and data. The majority of these pieces have been solicited from authors and activists in the US and Canada. We recognize this is a global crisis and that housing is a central urban struggle. If you would like to contribute to this series, we are accepting contributions; submission guidelines can be found here.

Articles in this series so far:


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To cite this article:

Joshua Akers, “Contemporary Housing Struggles: Crises, Activism, and Critical Research”, Metropolitics, 12 March 2021. URL : https://metropolitics.org/Contemporary-Housing-Struggles-Crises-Activism-and-Critical-Research.html

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Journal supported by the Institut des Sciences Humaines et Sociales (Institute of Human and Social Sciences) of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)

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