coronavirus centrelink unemployment rent strike mortgage
(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

The Centrelink lines are going round the block, the government has made vague announcements of rent assistance, twitter buzzes with notes from the newly laid-off wondering how they’ll put food on the table and pay the rent and the mortgage.

Here’s a suggestion. Do the former by omitting the latter.

If you have lost most or all of your income, or are about to, don’t pay your rent, don’t pay your mortgage. Write to your landlord or bank and tell them you won’t be paying for the next X months, and that you don’t regard this as a deferral, but as non-rent/non-mortgage months.

There’s a silver lining to every turd dropping from heaven, and the shining fringe around COVID-19 is that it will make it clear just how much of our economy is composed of dead value, non-productive ownership and the payment going to it: the rent.

The rent and the mortgage swallow up 30%, 40%, 50% of our incomes. They go into the maw of a property system whose prices have been ludicrously inflated by the privatisation of urban land development, land banking and the hidden inflation of a decade of quantitative easing; pumping trillions into a global economy in which neither production nor full-time jobs rose to anything like the levels intended.

So don’t pay it. Or negotiate a sharp reduction. Or negotiate a figure which covers part of the rates and part of maintenance and repair. If the landlord says they have a mortgage to pay, tell them to go on mortgage strike.

What’s the landlord going to do? Evict you? And get in who? Under-thirties will be moving back home, the overseas students have gone, the demand will go through the floor. They won’t even be able to show the place during lockdown. An actual tenant is an asset, even if they’re paying no rent.

Try and do it as cooperatively as possible with your landlord. Point out that it’s both of you versus the banks. That the bank is dead money, finance capital. That the threat of repossession only works when it’s the exception, not the rule. That the bank doesn’t want thousands of repossessed houses on its hands, sending their value through the floor.

Do it collectively if you can. Possibly some tech-savvy person could set up an online rent-strike register, where people could put the address of the house or flat they’re rent or mortgage striking in. They could put a standardised print-out sign in the window. The more visible the process becomes, the easier it will be, until it is automatic.

Do you have some nagging guilt about not paying the rent? Look, the house and land you’re paying rent on already exists. Are you going to use scarce money to pay that, cutting down on food, clothes, etc — things you and your family need, and whose production keeps people employed? What’s the point of that?

Above all, don’t draw down 20k of your superannuation to pay rent or mortgage! That’s actual money being tipped down the hole of fictional money to solve their problem.

Ideally the government should be doing this and enforcing it, but they are desperate to prop up the system, even if it becomes a husk. They’ll borrow from the future to make sure the banks get their money, then patch the hole with tax rises on average incomes and austerity cuts to services.

The whole economy will be sucked ever further towards total financialisation, bank dominance, which will kill economic revival. So the government must be forced to simply accept what is made a fait accompli by the action of thousands.

Are there exceptions? Of course. Some elderly or injury-compensated people own two flats; live in one, rent the other out for income. Or similar arrangements. They are not the enemy, and if that’s your landlord, you need to make a genuine arrangement with them. There are other exceptions, but it’s pretty much common sense.

If it flows towards a bank or finance company, you’re under no obligation.

Indeed, this should be a wider principle for the rents that dominate our lives. The federal government should force telecoms to drop their broadband/wifi/telephony fees.

Dividend distribution should be capped, reinvestment mandated, corporate share buy backs banned. Streaming services should be made to cut their fees and pay-per-view charges.

Sure, take the rent and mortgage assistance if it’s there and easy to get. But the more important thing is to not use living, dwindling money for dead rent.

Rent strike now!

Mortgage strike now!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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