By Da Lin

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) — Tenants and tenant advocacy groups are calling for a national rent strike on May 1st and are pleading with the government for rent forgiveness during the pandemic. They said if renters can’t work due to the shelter-in-place order, then they can’t pay.

“Just one paycheck away from being out in the streets,” said East Oakland renter Vanessa Bulnes. The early childhood educator was already struggling financially before the pandemic.

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“I’m actually paying 70 percent of our household income towards rent,” said Bulnes.

She’ll be furloughed from her job starting tomorrow, which means her $2,600 monthly rent will now be placed on hold as well.

“We don’t not want to pay rent.  We want to be able to pay rent.  We don’t want to be homeless,” said the grandmother.

Bulnes is joining the national rent strike and asking political leaders for help. She talked with other tenant advocates along with Michigan congresswoman Rep. Rashida Tlaib on a Zoom conference call Thursday morning to plan out the “We strike together” campaign.

“This movement is not really geared towards the moms and pops because we do understand the situation they’re in. That’s why we’re asking for mortgage and rent forgiveness,” said Bulnes.

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But landlord Guy Blume worries if the government doesn’t step in, he and other small landlords are left to carry the burden.

“At this time, we don’t know if we’re going to get any rent on May 1st,” said Blume.  His Oakland tenant in April couldn’t pay the full amount.  They worked out a partial payment.

“Landlords are people, too.  We’re not all rolling in dough,” said Blume.  His work has also slowed down, leading to a reduction in income.  “I have to look at my own bank account and say how long can I float this for. At some point, ‘what am I going to do?'”

Bulnes said she understands the problem.  Housing advocacy non-profits like Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment are trying to meet with Governor Gavin Newsom to hammer out a bailout for renters.

California already has a law on mortgage forbearance and a moratorium on eviction.  But people said that only gives them a lifeline for a few more months.  They said they need rent forgiveness.

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