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A rent freeze would protect far more people than the landlords it would hurt.

It’s no secret that daily life across the globe is being majorly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In America, schools and universities have physically shut down for the rest of the year, thousands of businesses have closed and 38 states have issued stay-at-home orders, according to Business Insider. Because of this, Americans are becoming unemployed in droves. What needs to happen is a rent freeze.

Within the past few weeks, over three million Americans have filed for unemployment, which is a record-high number for the U.S., according to The Guardian. With millions of Americans becoming unemployed, it’s a mystery how they’ll be able to afford basic living expenses — a major one for many being rent.

According to a homeowner statistic website last updated in February 2020, nearly 40% of householders are renting their home. According to finance website MillionAcres, many states have temporarily paused resident eviction during this time — Virginia among them, but only through April 6— to help combat the issue of resident’s possible inability to afford rent payments. This may be a small security net for some residents, but most of these states are set to lift this pause in a matter of weeks while conservative estimations say the pandemic will last until summertime, according to ZMEScience. 

Some states have implemented moderate rent programs, like New York. In New York City, a program was enacted that would cover some amount of the tenant's rent difference while also freezing rent at its current rate. Residents who join this program would, therefore, be exempt from future rent increases. Even still, programs like these simply aren’t happening on a scale large enough to support the millions affected at this time. America will soon face an inevitable increase in homelessness rates, and if the government wants to soften that statistic, implementations like rent freezes seem like the only way to do it.  

One main critique of a rent freeze is the harsh effects landlords would suffer, some of whom rely on rent as a main source of income. The simple fact is, there are significantly more Americans renting property than there are landlords. Research from housing magazine HudUser in 2015 concluded around 10 million American taxpayers declared rental income on property and estimated that about 10 to 12 million landlords exist in the U.S. While that number is undoubtedly much higher today, it’s still significantly lower than the tens of millions who actually rent a property. Even still, landlords should be entitled to some kind of compensation in the event of a rent freeze. Jacobin Magazine proposes a solution that seems to cover all bases. 

This month, Jacobin issued a proposal that suggests a nationwide rent freeze that would last for the entirety of the pandemic or end after a three-to six-month period. It would restrict annual rent to 3%, or the level of the local consumer price index, and restrict eviction entirely for the enacted time period. The proposal also suggests that the government assist landlords by establishing a fund for those affected by frozen rents and offer to acquire properties from landlords who want to get rid of them at a discounted rate and convert them into income-based rent housing. America needs to enact a similar plan, and fast, or else homelessness numbers are going to surge by the thousands.

Josie Haneklau is a sophomore political science and psychology major. Contact Josie at hanekljr@dukes.jmu.edu.