Commentary, COVID-19

Groups representing tenants and landlords agree: NC faces an acute rental housing crisis

In case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out an excellent op-ed that ran in the Charlotte Observer/News & Observer twins by a pair of surprising bedfellows.

In “A crisis is coming for NC tenants and landlords,” Rick Glazier the executive director of the North Carolina Justice Center (parent organization of NC Policy Watch and one of the state’s leading advocacy groups for low-income tenants) and Sherry Yarborough, President of the Apartment Association of North Carolina (perhaps the state’s largest and most important advocacy group for landlords) jointly make the case that North Carolina faces a dire rental housing crisis that simply must be addressed by state lawmakers.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that far too many North Carolina families are at risk of displacement as a result of an inability to pay rent, without any means of assistance. Unless Gov. Roy Cooper, the General Assembly and local governments act in a concerted and coordinated way, housing providers and the residential tenants who rely on them will face dire economic circumstances that could jeopardize the stability of the rental housing supply in North Carolina….

Eviction and summary ejectment hearings have been postponed since March 13. During this time, many housing providers have offered payment plan options, moved to electronic payments and waived late fees to accommodate the circumstances of this pandemic. Unfortunately, these efforts by one segment of the economy are not sustainable and cannot replace the type of aid that is required to mitigate the loss of income tenants have experienced.

Fortunately, there are possible solutions under consideration and in the legislative pipeline. In particular, Glazier and Yarborough tout House Bill 1200, a bill with the title “Foreclosure Prevention Grants/Rental & Utility Assistance” and the prospect that there are “funds available to the Governor and the agencies he oversees that should have been deployed by now.”

As they note in conclusion, this is not a crisis state leaders can afford to sidestep:

“Our state should be gravely concerned about rental housing providers’ ability to keep up with their financial responsibilities and the uncertainty that faces individuals and families who rent. Owners and operators rely on rental income to pay employee payroll, mortgage payments, taxes, insurance and, importantly, use these funds to maintain continuity of essential services for apartment communities and rental homes as many renters must shelter in place.

In addition to those pressing concerns, there is an ongoing housing affordability crisis — brought on by a housing supply shortage and crumbling infrastructure — that existed long before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. If lawmakers do not act, this crisis, paired with the current economic downfall, will only worsen. Residential rental owners and operators’ employees and residents need additional economic relief.”

Click here to read the entire op-ed and here to check out House Bill 1200.

Commentary, News

Workers, advocates speak up for Black lives, call for passage of federal HEROES Act

As the twin plagues of COVID-19 and police violence continue to inflict a disproportionate toll on the lives of people of color in North Carolina and around the country, local workers and worker advocates are speaking up and demanding change. A powerful recent example took place yesterday during a virtual event hosted by the North Carolina State AFL-CIO.

The event, which was part of a national “Workers First Caravan,” shined a spotlight on three North Carolina women of color who shared their heartfelt stories of struggle during the pandemic. All called for passage of the federal HEROES Act, which is a multi-part “second stimulus” bill that would expand and improve upon the federal CARES Act passed earlier this spring in numerous ways.

In sometimes tearful testimony, Sherita McCullers, a GoRaleigh Transit operator, explained how she worries about bringing the virus home to her family. She explained that her godmother has already passed away because of the virus and that her brother was recently admitted into the hospital with COVID-19.

“I know COVID-19 is real, and it’s not going away,” McCullers said. “So I’m asking Senator Thom Tillis, we need to keep all frontline workers safe and secure. We need you to do your job and support the HEROES Act.”

McCullers was followed by Ivy Jones, who is employed as a postal service worker. Jones explained how the U.S. Postal Service has been a critical resource for American communities for over 200 years and how she’s worried it could fail without new federal assistance. She said the USPS has provided many employment opportunities for Black Americans, and that privatization (or allowing the USPS to become insolvent) could have disastrous effects.

“Black women make up nearly 18 percent of the public workforce, or about 1.5 million workers,” Jones said. “The current administration wants us to go backwards, but Black people won’t go backwards, the labor movement won’t go backwards. We refuse to go backwards.”

Jones was followed by Jocelyn Bryant, a retired AT&T worker and union/community activist in Greensboro. Commenting on the 1,200-plus people in North Carolina who have died from COVID-19, Bryant noted that “Most of them were retirees like me. How can we pretend it’s over when people are still dying?”

All three women specifically urged Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr to work to remove opposition to the HEROES Act in the Republican-controlled Senate — a plea that was reiterated by MaryBe McMillian, president of the NC State AFL-CIO and Will Munn, a policy analyst with the Health Advocacy Project of the North Carolina Justice Center (parent organization to NC Policy Watch).

McMillan put it this way:

“The HEROES Act would keep frontline workers safe by requiring OSHA to pass an emergency infectious disease standard and by mandating that employers provide proper training and protective equipment. In addition, it would provide hazard pay to frontline workers and provide needed funding to our postal service, our public schools, our states, and our cities.”

Meanwhile, Munn reported (as he has previously on The Progressive Pulse) that Black workers have contracted and died from coronavirus at much higher rates in North Carolina and elsewhere due to longstanding inequities, the prevalence of Black workers in essential industries, and the fact that so many workers of color must often work multiple jobs for low pay and without health insurance.

“That’s why we’re calling on Senator Tillis to support our essential workers in this time of unprecedented crisis,” Munn said.

Click here to view the entire event on Facebook.


Prominent NC lawyers to state leaders: Take down the Confederate monuments now

Confederate monument on the state grounds of the state Capitol Building

Momentum continues to build quickly across the United States for the removal of statues, monuments and other public symbols dedicated to the memory of individuals with backgrounds marred by connections to racism and white supremacy. Now a group of prominent North Carolina lawyers is speaking up on the issue and calling for immediate action.

In a letter made public today, 66 attorneys representing a broad and diverse array of practicing lawyers and law professors called on state leaders to immediately remove major Confederate monuments from the state’s civic spaces (including the State Capitol).

In addition, the group conveyed their belief that the presence of such monuments in key/core government spaces violates both the state and federal constitutions.

The letter (about which reporter Joe Killian will have more coverage tomorrow morning) is addressed to Gov. Roy Cooper, House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Susi Hamilton and state Historical Commission chair, David Ruffin and reads as follows:

June 17, 2020

Dear North Carolina State Government Officials:

We are members of the North Carolina bar or professors at in-state law schools with, collectively, substantial experience in government, the private sector, and legal academia.

We write to convey our view that Confederate monuments in important civic spaces in North Carolina, including at the State Capitol, offend guarantees in our state and federal Constitutions.  These displays are inextricably tied to secession, slavery, and white supremacy. We urge their immediate removal.

As UNC Chapel Hill’s own website acknowledged for years, when seeing a monument such as “Silent Sam” exalting those who died for the South, “[m]any view it as a glorification of the Confederacy and thus a tacit defense of slavery.” “Silent Sam” is gone but a 75-foot-tall statue topped with an armed Confederate soldier still stands at the State Capitol in the heart of downtown Raleigh.  Its presence in that location offends the North Carolina ConstitutionRead more

News, Trump Administration

Former NC pol, Anthony Tata, opposed for Pentagon post over Islamophobia, slurs against Obama

CNN is reporting that Anthony Tata, a former army officer who courted controversy while later serving as Wake County schools superintendent and Secretary of Transportation under Gov. Pat McCrory, is now drawing heated opposition in his bid to serve as a high Pentagon official in the Trump administration.

This is from a CNN story posted last evening entitled “Democrats on key Senate committee oppose top Pentagon pick as more inflammatory tweets emerge”:

“Several Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Monday that they would oppose the nomination of retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata to oversee the Pentagon’s policy shop.

CNN’s KFile reported on Friday that Tata had a history of making Islamophobic and inflammatory remarks against prominent Democratic politicians, including falsely calling former President Barack Obama a Muslim.

If confirmed by the Senate, Tata would become the third highest official in the Pentagon overseeing the Defense Department’s policy shop, including its national security and defense strategy, nuclear deterrence and missile defense policy, and security cooperation plans and policies. The policy chief also closely advises the secretary of defense on national security and supports the Department of Defense’s program and budget decisions.

A spokesman for Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the committee that would oversee Tata’s nomination, said in a statement on Monday he would oppose the pick.”

And this is from a CNN report from last Friday:

“In several tweets from 2018, Tata said that Islam was the ‘most oppressive violent religion I know of’ and claimed Obama was a ‘terrorist leader‘” who did more to harm the US ‘and help Islamic countries than any president in history.’ Following the publication of this story, Tata deleted several of his tweets, screenshots of which were captured by CNN’s KFile.

Tata, in one radio appearance, speculated the Iran deal was born out of Obama’s “Islamic roots” in an attempt “to help Iranians and the greater Islamic state crush Israel.”

Yesterday, the advocacy group Muslim Advocates issued a statement expressing its opposition to Tata’s nomination, saying:

“Where Anthony Tata goes, bigotry and discrimination follow. His lengthy record of hostility and discrimination against Black people, Muslims and people with disabilities are absolutely disqualifying for any federal appointment. The Senate should reject him without hesitation.

His career as a media personality is built on anti-Black, anti-Muslim smears. He invoked slavery to attack a Black news anchor, he has repeatedly invoked race to smear Congresswoman Maxine Waters for her advocacy on behalf of police violence victim Rodney King, and he   regularly  perpetuates  the anti-Muslim, anti-Black birther conspiracy theory that President Obama is a ‘terrorist’ and a secret Muslim.”

Tata, who found time while serving in office in North Carolina to author lowbrow suspense novels, has a history of making inflammatory statements. Last night’s CNN article reported that Tata has frequently accused former President Obama as being part of a secret plot to bring down the United States and, indeed, accused his administration of committing treason.

“In May 2018, Tata tweeted at former CIA Director John Brennan, ‘Might be a good time to pick your poison: firing squad, public hanging, life sentence as prison b*tch, or just suck on your pistol. Your call. #Treason #Sedition #crossfirehurricane #Obamagate’
In another deleted tweet from July, Tata wrote that Obama sought to fundamentally change America because he hated the country.”
Commentary, Trump Administration

The best editorial of the weekend

Image: Natural Resources Defense Council

In case you missed it, be sure to check out an excellent editorial that ran this weekend in the Winston-Salem Journal and Greensboro News & Record.

In “Distraction = more environmental damage,” the authors show how the Trump administration is, in an especially egregious example of its utter moral bankruptcy, using the health pandemic to justify its ongoing effort to eviscerate crucial environmental protection rules.

Here’s an excerpt:

It’s not just that people aren’t paying as much attention while distracted by the pandemic. The Trump administration has also been using the pandemic to justify its assault on environmental regulations.

In late March, while Trump was saying the coronavirus wouldn’t amount to much here, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would no longer impose penalties if companies didn’t monitor and report pollution during the pandemic.

In March, as our lives were beginning to be seriously disrupted by the pandemic, the White House refused to extend the deadline for comments on a major rewrite — in other words, weakening — of the National Environmental Policy rules that have dictated approval of federal projects for more than 40 years.

And, still in March, the EPA proposed a change that would let scientists working for the agency ignore reputable human health studies, to speed things up.

Also in March, a weakening of one of the nation’s oldest and most successful environmental laws, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, was rushed forward by the Interior Department. In most cases, companies will no longer face penalties if their projects kill migratory birds.

On the last day of March, the EPA announced its rollback of tougher auto emission standards established under President Barack Obama.