Blaise Sewell

Yesterday the rent was due for millions of Americans for the first time since they were put under quarantine.

We are being told to remain indoors as much as possible and to maintain a safe distance from other people. For some of us, that means working from home. For millions of others, it means they can't work at all. On top of that, the quarantine is causing steep drops in revenue for most sectors of the economy, which means that even a lot of people who can work remotely are being laid off and losing their employer-provided health insurance amid a deadly pandemic. The result is that, for millions of people, paying the rent would require foregoing food or other basic necessities. For others, paying the rent isn't even on the table.

In just the last week, 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment insurance. That doubled the new record set the week before, making for a total of 10 million newly unemployed Americans in a span of two weeks—and that doesn't even include employees whose hours have been drastically cut or workers removed from the so-called gig economy.

Fortunately, there are some understanding landlords who are offering massively reduced or eliminated rent payments. Others, sadly, are issuing statements threatening tenants with eviction if they don't pay, or insisting that any payments that are deferred will have to be paid in full when the crisis is resolved—despite the obvious fact that the economy is never going to provide back-wages for people who are newly out of work.

Meanwhile, the government payments that are supposed to help people through these difficult times are being given out based on 2018 tax returns—so if you made a lot of money that year but are flat broke now, you're out of luck. Worse still, if you aren't already signed up to receive direct deposits from the IRS, your check could take up to four months to arrive. Coupled with a broad lack of necessary protections from eviction and foreclosure, the whole situation is looking grim.

With all this going on, a lot of people are not going to be able to pay their rent. The idea that all those people should face eviction or be buried in debt as a result is absurd—who would move into all those empty apartments at a time like this, anyway? While landlords may want to believe that they can be insulated from the economic effects of quarantine, that's just not how this is going to work.

Obviously, many landlords have mortgages that need to be paid—the fact that a mortgage freeze has not already been implemented throughout the country is shameful. But in the case of rental properties, that kind of relief is not nearly as urgent as the need for all housed people to keep their homes—and for adequate housing to be provided to the homeless. Landlords must be made to see that they have a duty to relieve some of the burden on their tenants. Even those of us who are able to pay rent: Should we?

Each situation is unique. Are you renting a few rooms in a nice old couple's house and still getting your usual paycheck? If so, you should probably give them rent. But if you are living in a large apartment complex and receiving threatening mass-emails from the management company, then you should talk to your fellow tenants and—even if you're able to pay—consider participating in a rent strike. Likewise, if you are struggling to make payments and feel like you're alone, reach out to your fellow tenants. Find out if they're struggling too, or if they're willing to stand with you.

You may feel it's too late to start this approach, but April 1st was just the beginning. In situations where one person has power over a large group of people—as in employee-employer and tenant-landlord relationships—collective action is necessary to correct that imbalance. Any individual tenant could easily be intimidated by a hard-nosed landlord or a large management company, but if all the tenants are able to communicate—either over the phone, through email, or in person from a safe distance—and coordinate their action, they have the power to negotiate terms. Organizations like the Los Angeles Tenants Union, with the "Food Not Rent" campaign, are helping in that effort, but as individuals we also need to step up.

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Landlords, as well as the banks that collect their mortgage payments, must all be made aware that they can't bully working people into giving up more than they can afford right now. This is not business as usual. This is a crisis. Solidarity among renters, workers, and everyone at the bottom of the food chain will be necessary if the people with the power in this country are going to be prevented from pushing all the negative consequences downstream. If that means rent strikes, sick outs, appropriation of empty houses for the homeless, then that's what we'll have to do.

As much as we are isolated in this quarantine, we have to find ways to come together and support one another if we're going to get through this.

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Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.

What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.

The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.

There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!

Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.

Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”

While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.

That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying

the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.

This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.

Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.

That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?

Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”

While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."

In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.

We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.

As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.

What would get you into the office? Free lunch? A gym membership? Permission to hang out with your dog? Some employers are trying just that.

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Did you hear about the Great Resignation? It isn’t over. Just over two years of pandemic living, many offices are finally returning to full-time or hybrid experiences. This is causing employees to totally reconsider their positions.

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