Indianapolis rental assistance insufficient despite additional $29.1 million

The Indianapolis City-County Council adopted Proposal No. 53, 2021 on February 1, which adds another $29.1 million to the city’s Coronavirus Relief Federal Grant Fund to pay rent for qualifying renters who are unable to keep up with rent due to COVID-19 affecting their employment.

The rental assistance program pays up to three months’ rent, at a rate capped by the monthly “fair market rent” approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The maximum benefit, for a household renting a six-bedroom unit, would be $5,613 for three months’ rent. In the council meeting, Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett said that the city received “literally hundreds” of rental assistance applications “per day” when they launched the assistance program, which distributed some $33 million to over 15,000 qualifying households in the second half of 2020. This averages to around $2,200 per household, slightly under the maximum allowance for those renting a one-bedroom unit.

Even with this small assistance, over 10,600 evictions have already been filed in Marion County alone since March 2020, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Cross-referencing this data with 2019 Census Bureau data on per-person income shows that 8,900 of these—84% of the total—have been filed against residents in neighborhoods where this income was at or under $31,200 in 2019, roughly equivalent to the total earnings for a worker at a $15 per hour full-time job. In Indiana, the minimum wage continues to languish at a miserable $7.25 per hour.

Rental assistance is badly needed, but its current form is totally inadequate for the scope of the problem. The Democratic Party, which holds 20 of 25 council seats and the mayor’s office, uses their total control of city government to offer the most meager of handouts to those in need with one hand. With the other, they give tens of millions of dollars in handouts to massive, profitable corporations like Eli Lilly and its former subsidiary Elanco. Hundreds of millions of dollars in ever-larger portions of the city budget are funnelled to IMPD, justified by the explosion of violence that accompanied the pandemic and has erupted in economically-devastated neighborhoods.

Every recession, which occurs cyclically every four to 10 years, is a crisis of capitalism. In every capitalist crisis, massive sums of wealth are transferred upward from the pockets of working and oppressed people into the coffers of the ruling class. In January, Business Insider reported that a study by the International Labour Organization found workers had lost $3.7 trillion in income globally due to the pandemic. The next day, an article by the same author cited an Oxfam report that found the world’s billionaires made $3.9 trillion in the same period. This is not a coincidence, but rather grim proof of the extreme exploitation central to the capitalist economy.

A different state of affairs is not just possible, it is necessary. Simply pausing some evictions while allowing others to continue in the midst of this deadly pandemic is hazardous and irresponsible. The Party for Socialism and Liberation and other organizations around the country have been demanding that rents and mortgages be canceled for both tenants and small landlords and businesses alike since the pandemic began.

Instead of squeezing taxes from working and oppressed people to give even more of our money to banks and monopoly corporations in a repeat of the 2008 crisis, we demand that the wealth we create be used to provide for our own needs. We need a socialist reconstruction of society that guarantees housing, food, and a job for all.