'Paying Rent or Buying Food': Meet the People Fueling the Movement to Cancel Rent During the Pandemic

Rent strikes across the country aim to force politicians to take drastic action to forestall the looming housing crisis.

Edwin Mantanico didn’t pay rent in April, and he doesn’t plan to pay it in May. The apartment he shares with his family in LA's Boyle Heights was expensive to begin with, and now, with him and his wife out of work due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unsustainable.

“I have to choose between paying rent or buying food for my family,” he said.

That stark choice is the way Mantanico’s organization, the LA Tenants Union, has framed recent protests targeting elected officials in California: Comida Sí, Renta No — yes to food, no to rent. It’s one of several groups around the country organizing rent strikes with the goal of forcing politicians to take drastic action to forestall the looming housing crisis.

Many cities and states have offered basic protections to tenants, including putting a pause on most evictions and, in the case of Los Angeles, offering tenants a grace period of one year to pay back rent after the crisis. But rent strikers say that’s not enough, warning of a flood of evictions and working families saddled with unmanageable debt once lockdowns are lifted. They say there’s only one solution: Forgive rent payments altogether.

VICE News spoke to striking tenants, politicians, and landlords about the growing movement to cancel the rent.