Yesterday, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly signed an executive order halting mortgage foreclosures and rent evictions in the state through May 1 in wake of the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., which has brought significant economic impacts along with its medical consequences. Before Kelly’s order, Renters Together MHK began advocating for an eviction moratorium in Manhattan, and the effort for renters’ protections is continuing.
“The eviction moratorium at the state level until May 1st is extremely positive,” said Brandon Irwin of Renters Together MHK. “That is still less than the 90 days we want. It will eventually need to be extended anyway. We must do that at the local level in the county and district courts.”
To take action in a time when Kansas State students’ and other Manhattan residents’ jobs and livelihoods have been disrupted by COVID-19-related precautionary measures, Renters Together MHK created an online petition asking the Manhattan City Commission to “put a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, rent increases, late payment fees (for rent) and ban utility shut offs for a reasonable period of time in response to this crisis.” The petition adds that funding for emergency housing is also needed.
At the time of this article’s publishing, 1,105 people have signed Renters Together MHK’s petition. The organization has spread the word through its Facebook page and with the help of other partnering organizations, said KayLa Cortes of Renters Together MHK.
On Tuesday, Irwin said the Riley County District Court has implemented a moratorium on evictions until April 3. That date is not sufficient, said Angela Dorsey of Renters Together MHK.
“Halting evictions from now to April 3 only affects people who are already in the eviction process,” Dorsey said. “The eviction process takes about 100 days, so it doesn’t even affect the people who are gonna be put into a position for eviction because of the COVID-19 virus.”
Dorsey said the organization’s petition does not specify a cutoff date for the eviction moratorium, as it is uncertain how long these disruptions will last.
“This should not be a controversial thing,” Irwin said. “Every other major city and municipality in the country is doing something like this.” He added this context: New York City’s eviction moratorium covers a 90-day period. Manhattan’s currently covers two weeks.
After Kelly’s executive order went into effect, Irwin said the aforementioned county and district courts have “demonstrated an extremely weak understanding” of issues that impact renters, especially those who are low-income and/or part of a marginalized community.
Student workers face uncertainty
With K-State’s shift to online-only instruction for the remainder of the spring semester and dormitory move-outs, students are substantially impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, though Riley County has not yet found a positive COVID-19 test. This disruption is especially pertinent for on-campus workers like Cameron Charity, junior in communication studies. Charity said his role as a Kramer Dining Center employee is in “some pretty serious trouble.”
“I just got an email from my supervising saying that they do not want us back, not even healthy students,” Charity said on Tuesday. “We’re going to be serving about less than 100 students. … There’s a lot of miscommunication from the university; we’ve got no updates on our pay or status of our jobs as of yet.”
As of October 2019, Housing and Dining Services employs up to 800 students, making the entity one of the university’s largest student employers.
“These are people who already essentially relied on their jobs to pay the bills,” Charity said of student workers. “COVID-19 will have long-term economic implications for student employees that are not going to go away, which is why [Renters Together] trying to work on this.”
Noah Rude, senior in architectural engineering, said things are confusing for student employees right now. Rude works for Insomnia Cookies, whose staff is 80-90 percent students, he estimates.
“I know some of them just went home because there’s no reason to stick around Manhattan if you can’t even go to class,” Rude said. “A lot of students don’t really know what’s going on. I know professors are trying to figure out what to do, how [are they] going to teach the rest of this class this semester.”
Rude is part of the on-campus organization Students for Bernie and said the group has had to cancel its plans. A wide swath of on-campus events, from choir concerts to guest lectures, will no longer go on as the university limits its operations.
“There’s really nothing for students to do except work, if they have a job, and figure out how they’re going to do online classes,” Rude said.
Pandemic exacerbates Manhattan’s housing problems
Lost wages and lost jobs during the COVID-19 outbreak add on to Manhattan’s existing housing issues. For one, Irwin said the Manhattan Emergency Center, “the last line of defense” against homelessness in the community, is struggling right now.
“They don’t have enough people and supplies to do day-to-day work right now, and they’re really worried about what’s going to happen when more people start knocking on their door in search of housing,” Irwin said.
The economic impacts of COVID-19 have interrupted the emergency shelter’s grant writing and fundraising efforts, and Irwin said he would love to see community foundations financially support the MEC.
On the national level, a COVID-19 stimulus package has passed through the Senate today, already approved by the the House, but Irwin said that bill does not allocate any funding for housing. What people should do now, he said, is call their representatives and senators and advocate for housing relief.
“We don’t have all the answers, but our elected officials need to figure that out,” Irwin said. “We need money for housing, and we need it fast.”