Due to the coronavirus, many have lost their income streams, and thus, the ability to pay rent. This hasn’t influenced the thinking of Australia’s biggest real estate company.
People are, as we speak, getting phone calls, emails, letters, texts or having Zoom chats about how they’ve lost their jobs, or their being stood down until the pandemic is over.
Lots of businesses and services are being forced to close – with good reason – and thus cannot afford, for the most part, to pay extended sick or service leave to employees. This, on its own, is awful. Larger business should be able to use their profit to pay those employees to stay home – even if they’re not working – in order to ensure that their workforce (whom they profess to care about) don’t get sick, and have jobs when this is all over. This means a lot of people are out of work and, thus, have no income.
So how in the hell can Ray White expect them to pay rent? How can any landlord or leasing business? With thousands becoming suddenly out of work, there needs to be some kind of rental and mortgage freeze. Otherwise, we’re going to have a (government-sanctioned) unprecedented number of homeless people when this is all over.
Ray White has sent out a letter to its tenants, basically saying that everything is “business as normal” – when it absolutely is not – and that failure to pay rent will “issue normal breach notices”, which includes evictions after 15 days of non-payment. Some may notice that time period as the same amount of time people need to self-isolate for if they’re infected. Now, to their credit, they said that if people “foresee any issues in ability to pay rent” then they should “communicate openly”.
This open communication, I imagine, would simply be Ray White saying, on behalf of their landlords, “pay your rent or get out”. What else could it be? The fact that they haven’t offered to use their profits to help out landlords to ease the stress on renters is evidence enough that “trickle-down economics” or “responsible capitalism” or whatever you want to call it is not just a failure, but it never existed in the first place.
And I mean what I said. These evictions, if they take place, will be government-sanctioned because, if they don’t do something in order to enforce a rent freeze, then they’re tacitly endorsing this happening. I don’t entirely blame the landlords in this situation, for some of them, this is their only income.
Those landlords who have no other income stream, or who need to make mortgage payments on the properties they’re leasing, while I think their entire “job” should be abolished, are indeed in a bind. They are as strapped as everyone else. But there is something that the government can do to help workers, businesses and landlords alike.
And it originated in Denmark. In doing so, it will spend 13% of its GDP to pay businesses up to 90% of their employees’ wages, as well as furnishing the other benefits the Danish social safety net has, in order for those businesses to not be forced into insolvency, and those employees can stay home and receive their wages.
The Employment Minister of Denmark, Peter Hummelgaard, explains that spending this kind of money upfront will save the Danish economy down the road.
“If this current predicament becomes a structural problem, with mass unemployment and reduced aggregate demand, the cost to our economy and to our deficit will be much more expensive than investing in these programs upfront,” he said.
“That is our pure logic. That’s the economic side of it. It is more expensive to do less. Then there’s a social side of it: Unemployment creates a host of problems not only for society, but also for individuals. This program is preventing more layoffs, mass layoffs.”
The Danish plan is set to end in June, but Hummelgaard noted that, “If we need to keep the lockdown for a longer period of time, we may rethink our plan and come up with new initiatives. But it’s important to say that we will do more.”
Some people may say that Denmark is a small country, so it can afford to do this. But Australia is a rich country, it can afford to do this, too. We are number nine on the list for most millionaires in the world (1,180), but number five on the list for the percentage of the population who are millionaires (6.3%). As a nation, we could easily afford to implement something like the Danish plan.
We cannot keep up what we’re doing. Forcing people into 4am Centrelink lines for Newstart or sending them into a phone or email hell in order to sort it out in order to receive a pittance compared to their normal earnings is, frankly, insulting for a nation as wealthy and developed as ours. Landlords should not be squeezing now-unemployed renters for rent money they logically can’t have.
There needs to be a rent, mortgage and debt freeze now. And the government needs to step in and put some money in upfront and help these people maintain some kind of income. If you agree there should be no evictions during a literal pandemic health crisis, you can sign the below petitions from Action Network and Change.org.