With a parade of vehicles replacing a protest march and rally, tenants’ advocates called for rent and mortgage relief in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
In what may become a harbinger of how protesters will function during the pandemic, dozens of honking cars plastered with signs circled U.S. Bank Plaza in downtown Minneapolis on Wednesday, calling for a cancellation of rent and mortgage payments during widespread shutdowns.
Most stayed in their vehicles, while a handful of activists wearing face masks stood at street corners directing traffic during the 30-minute protest.
The demonstration was not intended to impede traffic, but the vehicles circling a single block between 5th and 6th streets and 2nd and 3rd avenues caused slight backups over the noon hour. Several police cars pulled up nearby. Officers stayed in their squads and watched but did not interfere.
Protest leaders say social distancing requires new forms of demonstration.
“These are challenging times, and we’ve had to reinvent how to work together,” said Arianna Feldman, a spokeswoman for Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (United Renters for Justice), one of the groups sponsoring the protest. “It’s a moment of crisis, and we wanted to do it in the safest way possible for everyone in the community.”
The issue facing renters, the activists say, is that many have been laid off from jobs during the pandemic and without income are unable to pay their rents or mortgages.
“My husband and I have been out of work for three weeks,” said Jazmin Mendoza, who circled the block in her car with her husband. She works for a beauty salon that’s been closed, while her husband, a construction worker, is also out of work.
“We have called our property manager and told them we will not be paying our rent in April,” she said. “Hopefully something will change in the month of May.”
During a virtual news conference, activists appealed to Gov. Tim Walz to suspend or halt rent and mortgage payments.
“I had to make a decision, pay for rent or pay for food,” said Jose Cadena Ramirez, adding that many in his apartment building are unable to pay their rent this month. “It isn’t that we don’t want to pay the rent; we can’t.”
Walz has put a moratorium on evictions, which tenants groups applaud, but say the action needs to be expanded to cover payment of rent. Walz has created a loan program for small businesses such as bars and restaurants, but it does not apply to landlords — especially small landlords — who are dependent on rent to cover the costs of utilities, mortgage payments, upkeep and repairs.
The tenants groups say they would like a halt to mortgage payments that should apply to both landlords and the general public during the pandemic.