There's a relatively simple way you, your friends and neighbors can alleviate years of the needless hardship and pain that Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and Senate's Radical Republicans are about unleash.
Legions of Americans have been left broke by the coronavirus pandemic and government bungling or intentional malfeasance. Or worse…plain meanness.
Trump and McConnell refuse to revive the moratorium on evictions that expired in July and will result, starting this week, in evictions across the country. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives did pass relief but the Senate did not.
We can't stop evictions, but we have the power to save the household furnishings and goods of evicted families. That will save those unfortunate souls from years of economic damage as they bear the cost of replacing everything from lamps to towels to children's toys.
In evictions those possessions get tossed to the curb, often left there because people have no place to store them and no money to move them. We can fix that and at the same time reduce the burdens on municipal governments that collect trash, on charities that help the temporarily destitute and on neighbors.
Here's the plan:
Preserve those household goods when people get evicted by storing them in unused commercial, industrial and governmental buildings.
Charity executives (including my spouse), nonprofit and tax lawyers and others with whom I discussed this plan all agreed that it is practical, legal, relatively easy to do quickly and highly cost-effective.
America has vast amounts of unused commercial and industrial space with no prospect of being used or rented out until the pandemic is over. And many local governments have unused buildings.
The first step is for you and your friends to contact charities that help the poor and homeless. Their staffs and boards know many owners of commercial and industrial space and they know which owners are charitably inclined.
Building owners who agree to let their unused space be used to store personal property will incur some modest marginal costs, mostly for utilities and insurance.
That's where community foundations, United Ways, churches and charities play another role. They can make modest grants needed to cover these costs and thus create an incentive for landlords to make their currently useless space socially useful.
No cost to landlords
Commercial and industrial landlords who cooperate may do so at no cost out of the goodness of their hearts because they care about others. They may recognize the pain they or their families felt before they became property rich. Others may be persuaded that this is an opportunity to improve their public image during the epidemic of evictions. And some no doubt will feel the lure of a tax deduction for donating the space to a charity, an in-kind grant.
But whatever the reason there are so many property owners and so much empty space that finding space and willing owners should be relatively easy. Even if you and your friends may not know who to reach out to, leaders of your community do. You need to cajole them into seeing the good they can do by taking action.
In many cities and towns local governments also own empty space. The benefit for municipal political leaders is a combination of good will and reducing demand for social services.
How will household goods get from curb to storage? The evicted can help if they have a car or truck and can solicit help from friends and neighbors. Organizing volunteers to help should be no more difficult than organizing volunteers for myriad other charitable work projects we see every day across America.
This effort will require some rules. Not everything is likely going to be accepted for storage. For example, flammables would be no-nos. Different landlords will have different concerns, but most will want an inventory and likely little or no access to the goods until they are taken back.
Inevitably fire, flood or theft may ruin some storage spaces. The people who benefit from the storage would be no worse off if that happens. But grants to cover the insurance would protect the donating landlord and provide substantial or even full recovery for those whose goods were destroyed.
Take a moment to think about your own house or apartment. Look around at your furniture. Then think about the stuff that's in drawers and cabinets — linens, clothes, tools. If you rent or own a home, there's the lawnmower and rakes and ladders and other tools.
How much would it cost you to buy new stuff to replace it all? How long would it take you to replace all of that if it got tossed to the curb and ended up in the town dump?
Think of how a little effort and a little money could give so much help to those among your neighbors who get evicted.
What you can do
If helping your fellow Americans this way intrigues you, here are some concrete steps to take:
- Call friends and solicit their engagement, asking them who has resources, connections or property or knows who could be helpful. Assign specific tasks and a time to report back to the group.
- Call your local homeless shelters, food bank, your community foundation, United Way and churches. Ask them to read this piece and to make a commitment on how much help they can provide both financially and organizationally.
- Meet with the staffs of these organizations and ask them to commit to a timetable to act to help those evicted not weeks or months from now but as close to immediately as humanly possible.
- Ask these organizations to reach out to landlords, including those on their boards, to donate space. Don't be surprised if the landlords want a contract that holds them harmless — that's why insurance matters.
- Ask the local sheriff or other law enforcement who carry out evictions for a list of pending evictions so you can help the people being dispossessed. Some people will refuse help, but others will welcome the relief and the sense that others care. It's crucial to promise, and strictly keep your word, that you won't interfere with lawful evictions, you just want to preserve people's property.
- Solicit news coverage of the first family helped, which will spread the word and encourage others to seek help, to offer help and maybe to donate space and money.
- Treat everybody with respect, especially those evicted. That includes landlords who evict people. Most landlords have mortgages and without rental income can lose their properties. Some landlords will be villainous, but most have no choice but to evict because Trump, McConnell and their Senate allies refuse to help landlords as well as renters.
- Finally, look at this as an opportunity to not only do good, but to show that the American people are better than Trump, McConnell and the rest of the Senate Republicans who have it in their power to prevent evictions and keep landlords solvent during the pandemic but instead are making that problem worse.