By David Rovics
April 1st, 2020
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Randall,
Just to let you know, since we’ve never met, I’m one of your many residential tenants. I imagine that between you and your corporation, the Randall Group, and then between that and its subsidiary, CTL Management, Inc., there are several degrees of disconnect, so you may or may not be aware that your corporate representatives have just sent me and presumably your thousands of other tenants up and down the west coast notifications of yet another annual increase in our monthly rent — dated March 25th, 2020.
The letter, excerpted here, is a very slight variation of the same one we have received every year since I moved in to one of the many buildings you own, in Portland, Oregon, in 2007. You, or the management company you own, has more than doubled our rent since that time. You have never once provided any explanation in your annual letters for why the rent has to increase so much more than most people’s wages, which have remained stagnant in this country for decades, as our life expectancy has as well.
The thing is, stagnant wages are only leading to a life expectancy that is not rising because expenses are not stagnant. Expenses are always rising. Chief among those expenses? Rent charged by people like you, and corporations like yours.
It admittedly does really irk me that in 2011, you donated $10 million to a hospital here in Portland, so that they named the children’s wing of the hospital after you. Every time I pass that hospital, it upsets me, to think that the reason my three children have to live in the same small apartment I moved into when I only had one child, is because you keep raising our rent by such an unconscionable, unmanageable amount, every year. How many children in this city with parents less fortunate than we are are now homeless because of your unfettered greed, because your wealth is more important than the lives of your tenants? While you donate money to a hospital that cares for children. The irony is what upsets me — not the donation itself. It’s the narcissism involved with such BS philanthropy, the fake philanthropy of someone who wants their name on a sign, but doesn’t care about the children who suffer in order to put that name on the sign.
Of course, I’m just making assumptions about your motives. Maybe you really do care about regular people. If so, you can start to show that by, for example, declaring a suspension of rent for the duration of the crisis, and then lowering the rent you charge post-crisis to something more compatible with the actual living situations of actual people — not just your preferred people, imports from even more expensive cities who keep moving in to your apartments, and displacing people who grew up around here, or have lived here a long time. This may just be the way capitalism works, and you’re just another commercial and residential real estate company that is going along with the capitalist program, but the thing is, you and the lobbying group that you support actually lobbies in state capitals to make sure there is no regulation passed that interferes with your ever-increasing profits. So you’re not just part of a bad system — you are the bad system.
People like you, and corporations that people like you own, need to be resisted, if there is any hope for this horrendously divided and literally very sick society.
I, like many of your current and especially former tenants here in Portland, am an artist. I’m a touring songwriter. I make a living largely from traveling around the world and performing. Now, I can’t even travel and perform in Oregon, let alone in Europe, where I spend much of my professional life. Oh, and the reason I tour Europe so much in the first place, instead of more locally, and the reason I usually spend so many more months away from home than I used to, touring there in Europe, is largely because of you, and your rent increases. But now, I can’t tour. But you not only want the rent as usual, as if there weren’t a massive global catastrophe going on, as if the entire society weren’t under some form of quarantine, but you have the audacity to actually raise it.
Landlords like you are a big part of this society’s problem. Not landlords like some of my friends, who are struggling to pay their mortgages, struggling to find a way to let their tenants slide on rent, but landlords specifically like you, who own so many buildings. Even your corporate clients are announcing they’re not going to pay their rent for April. We lowly residential tenants would be idiots not to do the same, really.
Especially since so many of us actually can’t. I can, for now. I just toured Australia, before the world closed its borders, so although the rest of my spring tour in North America and Europe was canceled, and although I’m drowning in credit card debt I was planning to pay off with that tour, I’ve got a little money, no thanks to you. But it seems to us that there are better things to hold on to that money to do, especially while there is a statewide ban on evictions and power shutoffs.
Everything is moving very fast, as you know. We’ll see what new laws get passed, and how much government aid there is for people like me. I’m sure there will be lots of government aid for corporations like yours. Plus, you don’t need any more money. You’re very rich. It’s time for you to change your ways. Blame the pandemic, or blame me, or blame society, I don’t care. But two of the people who are to blame for my family’s relative poverty, and for the fact that most of my friends have moved out of Portland since I first moved here — for the fact that any musician even slightly less successful than me can’t afford to live in this city — are you guys, Mr. and Mrs. Randall.
But we regular people don’t expect people like you to change without a fight. However, let this be entirely clear: if there is to be a class war in America, it is people like you who started it. We are only responding to your mindless greed and the broken system which people like you broke and make sure stays broken. No more.
David Rovics, your tenant
P.S. I have paid the rent on time every month since April, 2007.
David Rovics has been called the musical voice of the progressive movement in the US. Since the mid-90’s, Rovics has spent most of his time on the road, playing hundreds of shows every year throughout North America, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Japan. He has shared the stage regularly with leading intellectuals, activists, politicians, musicians and celebrities. In recent years he’s added children’s music and essay-writing to his repertoire. More importantly, he’s really good. He will make you laugh, he will make you cry, and he will make the revolution irresistible. Check out his pamphlet: Sing for Your Supper: A DIY Guide to Playing Music, Writing Songs, and Booking Your Own Gigs