Amid an unprecedented number of people unable to work because of the novel coronavirus health crisis, tenants and housing activists in San Francisco are calling on the city's largest landlord to suspend rent.
On Wednesday, the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, Jobs with Justice and tenants of Veritas Investments called on Veritas to cancel rents for the duration of the stay-at-home order, which has been extended to at least May 3.
Despite a citywide moratorium on evictions during the order, the activists said canceling rents for some 6,000 Veritas residents would help eliminate future debt for tenants who may owe back rent but are out of work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although Veritas announced it would not pursue non-payment evictions due to COVID-19 before Mayor London Breed's eviction moratorium order last month, the activists are now seeking further protections.
"Now we're asking them again to take leadership on the issue of rent forgiveness and come to an agreement with their tenants," said Brad Hirn, HRCSF's lead community organizer.
Hirn said activists have sent two letters on the matter to Veritas, as well as a petition, but haven't heard back.
Longtime Mission District tenant Ivy Jeanne said she's currently unable to afford her rent after losing her bartending and event staging jobs.
"I found out I lost both of my jobs within one week, just around the shelter-in-place order, so I was devastated by that news, as I live paycheck to paycheck," Jeanne said.
"It turns out that two of my other housemates also lost their jobs that week of the shelter-in-place order. Which makes three of four of us unemployed. We collectively decided to go on rent strike and I sent my letter yesterday to my landlord," she said.
"We're hoping that Veritas sets an example and comes to an agreement on rent forgiveness. We understand that the governor (Gov. Gavin Newsom) made an agreement with banks around mortgage payments for homeowners, and we think in a similar way large actors like Veritas can do the same," Hirn said.
Last week, Newsom announced a deal with banks to provide homeowners statewide with a 90-day grace period to make mortgage payments. Hirn is hoping activists and tenants can spread the message of rent forgiveness.
"By May 1st, if we don't have a real solution, then we're prepared to take further action on that date," he said.
In a statement, Veritas Investments responded, "We are committed to doing our part, and have demonstrated this on multiple occasions, including voluntarily instituting a moratorium on evictions to help our residents feel confident that their homes are secure as we all grapple with these challenges.
"The actions proposed today cannot be done piecemeal, but can only be addressed as part of a united effort amongst renters, landlords, banks, insurance companies, vendors, and all levels of government," according to the statement.
Veritas' statement echoes efforts by city supervisors Matt Haney and Hillary Ronen, who last week introduced legislation calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to use emergency powers to impose an immediate moratorium on rents and the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to impose an immediate moratorium on mortgages.
The supervisors said the two measures needed to be done simultaneously to prevent massive debt nationwide.