‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’ explains how the pandemic bolsters affordable housing crisis
Evictions: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

With evictions on the rise due to coronavirus, John Oliver discusses the long struggle with housing in the US, why it’s gotten worse in recent months, and how to prevent an impending crisis.

Aired on June 28, 2020

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Hi there! Welcome to the show, still coming to you from this blank void. It’s been another eventful week, with more elections, this time in New York and Kentucky, plagued by long lines, and the Trump administration trying yet again to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Because if there’s one thing we have too much of right now, it’s healthcare. And yet, once more, the news has been dominated by the coronavirus — among other things, the worst thing to happen to weddings since flash mobs. The U.S. is now setting records for daily new cases as the virus surges around the country, which makes it both startling and frankly infuriating that, on Friday, the vice president made this declaration.

The truth is, we did slow the spread, we flattened the curve, we were able to stand up the resources and the capacities in our healthcare system to be able to meet this coronavirus, uh, in a way that would put the health of all of our country first.

John: What? That is just such an open and stupid lie. It’s like instead of saying “your dog is on a farm upstate,” your dad said “your dog owns a farm upstate that has the market cornered in wholesale wheat and grain supplies for the entirety of Saratoga county.” That’s not true. The dog is dead and so, by the way, are over 120,000 Americans. And on top of that, Pence also conspicuously omitted “wearing a mask” from advice he gave for slowing the spread of the virus. And I’ll just never understand why — or even how — republicans have made “not spreading disease” into a culture war issue. Honestly, this was a missed opportunity. You could’ve printed “Make America Great Again” on a billion red masks and dropped them out of helicopters. People would’ve worn them. You’re not even capitalizing on a national disaster correctly, you fucking idiots. And it’s notable that some of the states that were most aggressive about reopening for business, like Texas and Florida, are now seeing some of the worst spikes in cases, making their governors’ early proclamations of success seem pretty ill-advised, perhaps none more so than this from Ron DeSantis just last month:

You’ve got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was gonna be just like New York, “Wait two weeks, Florida’s gonna be next. Just like Italy, wait two weeks.” Well, hell, we’re eight weeks away from that and it hasn’t happened.

John: Oh, really? Just as a general thought here, I badly want Ron DeSantis to go on a lengthy tirade about how he has never been hit by lightning and never will be. Come on, Ron, please. You show that liberal lightning hoax who’s boss. But the continuing spread of the coronavirus actually brings us to our main story tonight, because we have a huge covid-related catastrophe that is just around the corner.

Hundreds of tenants rallying this week demanding rent relief. They warn the next few months could see the largest number of eviction cases ever.

John: Yeah. As if things weren’t already bad enough, in the middle of a pandemic, we may be about to see evictions on the rise. And on the list of things you hope never to see on the rise, evictions have to be right up at the top, tied, of course, with Larry King’s penis. That thing going up is just not what our current situation requires. And while evictions rising is shocking, it was also completely foreseeable. Coronavirus has played havoc with employment, making it difficult for many to make rent, which was always going to have significant consequences, given that about one-third of u.s. Households are renters, and renters tend to have lower incomes than homeowners in the first place. And while stimulus checks, expanded unemployment insurance, and state and federal moratoriums on evictions undoubtedly helped hold back the tide, those mechanisms are now starting to run out or expire. And if we do nothing, experts are predicting horrific outcomes, with millions of people left vulnerable.

This is the worst economic crisis the United States has seen in generations. If nothing else changes and evictions continue as normal, then this public health crisis will turn into a full-blown homelessness crisis.

John: It’s true. The coronavirus crisis could also soon turn into a full-blown homelessness crisis. And it’s hard to even fathom something already so bad transforming into something else so appalling. It’s like finding out that Magikarp — objectively the worst Pokemon, for obvious reasons — is set to evolve into Kevin Spacey. I should’ve traded you for Psyduck when I had the chance. And it says something about the utter absurdity of what’s about to happen that this is how some eviction hearings will be taking place:

Starting with tomorrow’s docket, judge Lopez will start hearing eviction cases, either in the court using webcams with the defendant and the plaintiff in separate rooms, over Zoom, or even on the phone.

John: What are you doing? You know, it might be worth thinking twice about what you’re taking part in if you’re throwing people out of their homes via Zoom, a platform you’re only using because it’s not safe for people to leave their homes. Besides, Zoom shouldn’t be where you find out you’re getting evicted. It should be where you find out in a virtual happy hour which one of your coworkers has been secretly rich the whole time. I’m sorry, Joanna has a chandelier? Where did she get chandelier money? Why don’t I have chandelier money? Look, the fact is, we’re about too out of our way to throw people out of their homes at the worst possible time. And even in normal times, evictions are incredibly damaging, with long, long-term effects. On the community level, they’ve been linked to heightened residential instability, substandard housing, declines in neighborhood quality, and job loss, and on the individual level, they can be completely devastating in ways you may not even realize, from families losing their possessions and having to start over, to significant difficulties in obtaining new housing, something that can be hard to do with an eviction on your record. Evictions have consequences that can haunt you for the rest of your life.

So tonight, with rent due in just three days, we thought it might be a good time to talk about evictions. And let’s start with the fact that the lack of affordable housing is yet another systemic problem that the coronavirus has thrown into harsh relief, because to be clear, it was a crisis in this country long before the pandemic struck, with rents so high and renters so burdened that stories like these became a staple on local news:

A chaotic scene as hundreds make a run for the door and a chance at Dallas county housing vouchers. At least eight people suffered injuries while trying to line up this morning.

I saw people run, so I started running and I slipped and fell all over the pavement.

Jordan Spivey is all scuffed up after taking quite a tumble this morning but grateful she wasn’t trampled too.

John: Holy shit. No one should ever be trampled by a crowd of people out of desperation to get rental assistance. There are only two times when trampling is remotely acceptable: the day after Thanksgiving — that’s America’s national trampling holiday — and whatever day in the future the PS5 comes out. I don’t care that it looks like an alien’s waffle maker or a penguin designed by Apple. It’s going to have “Horizon Forbidden West” as an exclusive release, and I will stomp anyone who stands between me and that game. I want to murder dinosaur robots with flaming arrows, and I want to do it now.

Now, that particular stampede was nearly a decade ago, but unfortunately, the problem has only gotten worse since then. Rents have risen significantly faster than incomes, to the point where, for renters below the poverty line, the majority are spending more than half of their income on housing and a quarter are paying 70% or more. Which is just not remotely sustainable. Meanwhile, landlords have been steadily evicting around a million households a year for over a decade. And all of this disproportionately impacts people of color, as black households, for instance, are twice as likely as white households to face eviction, and women of color — particularly black women — are especially vulnerable to it. So things have clearly been bad for a long time, but once the pandemic hit, like everything else, they got even worse. And yet you might have assumed there was a freeze on rent payments if you listened to decomposing melon Larry Kudlow laying out the trump administration’s plans back in March:

[Larry Kudlow] Don’t forget also, please: regarding things like rent payments or rental home loans, all that will — evictions — let me add that all that will be put on hold. There will be no evictions during this period.

John: Now, that sounds great, especially if what you took from it was, “no rent, no evictions.” But that’s not actually what he’s saying there. The policy he’s describing only paused evictions, not rent. Meaning that for those unable to pay, the bills they owe have just been piling up this whole time. Also, the policy only applied to certain properties, like those with federally backed mortgages, which account for just a quarter of all rental units. So as far as comprehensive plans to stem this crisis, it leaves a lot out. Much the same way, in fact, that Larry Kudlow’s wife leaves a lot out of her many paintings of her husband’s clothes. Specifically, what she leaves out is her husband. Because, as we’ve mentioned before on the show, there is simply nothing she likes to do more than paint her husband’s ties over and over and over and over again in a joyous celebration of the absence of Larry Kudlow. And quick side note here: when we first brought this up months ago, we offered anyone 10 U.S. Dollars, plus a $20,000 donation to their local food bank, if they were willing to sell us one of these genuine Larry-less masterpieces. And everything’s been so busy that we haven’t had the chance to reveal something to you. And that is… We actually got one. And let me tell you, the absence of Larry is even more striking in person. Look, the point is, the federal moratorium on evictions left a lot of people unprotected. And while several dozen states put in place their own moratoriums, many of those protections have already expired, leaving renters in 23 states with no state-level protection from eviction, meaning many tenants are forced to rely on the kindness of their landlords, some of whom, to their credit, have worked with their tenants and reduced the rent owed, or have stepped up in even bigger ways, like this guy:

Mario Salerno owns roughly 80 apartments in his hometown of Williamsburg. He knows the pain so many are going through. So he decided this month to waive rent for everyone. Everyone. 200 Tenants. And he is not collecting.
For me, it was more important for people’s health and worrying about who can put food on whose table. I had tenants that said they can’t work, they can’t pay me. I says, “don’t worry about paying me. Worry about your neighbor.”

John: That’s great. That’s very generous. But unfortunately, the solution obviously can’t be to count on everyone being like that guy, if for no other reason than if everyone was like that guy we’d be forced to make a Sopranos reboot that was essentially just “oops! All Silvios.” And nobody wants that, not even Silvio. He balked at his brief tenure being the skipper. He couldn’t handle the crown. Let’s just let him stay where he’s comfortable. And the truth is, rather than emulating that guy, some landlords have gone the opposite way, even trying to threaten tenants despite the protections in place.

Courtney is still in disbelief as she reads through the most recent emails from her landlord. She says on march 31st she told the landlord who lives in Canada that April rent would be late. Days later…
“Just pay the rent or move out.”
The emails started.
“You lying [bleep]. Both you and your grandmother can go online and [bleep] yourselves.”

John: Wow. That isn’t just horrifying, it also effectively demolishes every Canadian stereotype I’ve previously held. ‘Cause it seems there’s a new type of Canadian none of us have known about, and it’s the hard-hearted bad boy who tells you and your grandma to go fuck yourselves. Now, luckily, her governor had ordered a freeze on evictions for those affected by covid, which covered her situation. And when that local news reporter pointed that out to her landlord, his response was pretty remarkable.

He sent us a colorful email. In it, he apologized for the profanity and eventually said he’s willing to waive her late fees plus half the April rent which he would lose anyway if he had to find a new tenant. And they can both get on with “our miserable lives.”

John: Okay, whatever you think of that landlord’s behavior, I will say this: that is just objectively the right way to end any email in 2020. “Happy virtual graduation! Now let’s get on with our miserable lives.” “Congrats on the new baby! Now let’s get on with our miserable lives.” “My deepest condolences on the loss of your grandmother. She lived a long and miserable life, and now she’d want us to get on with ours.” And the thing is, even when landlords and property managers obeyed the moratoriums, they often made it painfully clear that tenants were going to be evicted at the first available opportunity.

I’m notoriously a landlord that doesn’t generally let tenants get by with any exception.
Even as court hearings are temporarily on hold, he’s moving forward with filing evictions and attempting to collect.
It’s never fun throwing, you know, throwing a single mother and their three kids out on the streets. That’s not fun. But it’s business.

John: Okay, first of all: never say never. What if the three kids in question were baby Hitler, baby Stalin, and Donald Trump jr., And their single mom was Ghislaine Maxwell? That’s a pretty fun eviction right there. That foursome could frankly use a little time on the street. But what is happening in that example is actually really important, because many of those moratoriums prevent the physical act of eviction, but they don’t stop the legal process that leads up to it. Many landlords and property managers have been able to file for evictions with the court this whole time, meaning cases have just been piling and piling and piling up. And as soon as moratoriums are lifted — which is already happening in many places — evictions could come fast. And some landlords will tell you that the current situation isn’t their fault and that their tenants should’ve somehow prepared better. One property management company actually made that argument to a local Denver news crew, who then played the audio to one of the company’s tenants — and just wait until you see his response.

I mean, I understand that everybody is in a state of fear and panic right now, but it’s not the property owners’ responsibility. We have to plan for a rainy day. Everybody should be planning for a rainy day.
Maybe you should’ve saved for the rainy day. Just sayin’.

John: Yeah. That’s a fair point. Because why are renters consistently the only ones being told they should’ve planned better? It’s important to remember everyone is in this crisis together right now. And this isn’t just a rainy day, it’s the great flood, and one reason no one has an umbrella is ’cause it’s not safe to reopen the fucking umbrella factory yet. And in the face of an extreme crisis, some tenants are understandably calling for drastic measures, like rent strikes.

We are out here today to demand that the city, the state and the federal government cancel the rents. We need rent cancellation. Every month we’re accumulating more and more and more debt. So there’s no way we’re going to be able to repay that back.
A lot of us are already choosing between food and rent. We’re saying to choose food.
The same way they bail out banks, they should bail out working families like mine.

John: Yeah, of course, we should absolutely treat families at least as well as we treat banks, who can apparently, like Wells Fargo, just re-establish themselves whenever they get in trouble. In fact, next time your landlord asks you for your last three months of rent, tell them they’re mistaken. That rent was owed by the previous you. The current you was re-established on July 1, 2020, and you’re ready for a fresh start.

And look, rent strikes are a risk. Ultimately, you could end up being evicted for non-payment, which, remember, could make it harder to get housing in the future. And depending on your landlord’s situation, they might be unable to meet property taxes that go toward funding essential city services. So they are not without consequences. But you can see why many have been pushing for them, or, indeed, for rent cancellation, because people are desperate. And strikes have been an effective way of calling attention to how dire things are right now. And while, long-term, we desperately need a plan to fix our affordable housing crisis, in the short term, we just have to find a way to keep people in their homes. And although some cities are trying to provide rental assistance, the limited funds at their disposal make it difficult to address the scope of the problem. Take Houston: they established a $15-million rental relief fund, and this is what happened:

$15 million, gone in just 90 minutes. Money that was dedicated to help families pay their rent during this pandemic.
We are not able to accept your applications for the —
Rita and Trevor had applied for 1,800 bucks in rental assistance. They won’t be getting that help though, because by the time they applied online this morning, the money was already gone.
$15 Million gone in an hour? Come on now.

John: Yeah, it’s shocking to watch $15 million disappear in 90 minutes. I mean, not quite as shocking as watching $175 million disappear in around the same time, but still, you know: shocking. And the thing is, the city of Houston knew going in this was going to be an issue. They even tweeted after the fact, “we understand this is nowhere near enough to meet the need of all Houstonians.” And in fact, the city directly encouraged people to reach out to their representatives to advocate for greater funding, because the truth is, cities can only do so much without federal intervention. They have essentially the same amount of power as the servants of Downton Abbey — sure, they’ll do what they can, but at a certain point, when things get really bad, they’re going to have to take this shit upstairs.

Now, in a much bolder move, the city of Ithaca, New York, is currently in the process of trying to cancel rent for those affected by this pandemic and is calling on the state to provide funding for landlords who need relief. And that is an interesting idea, although, again, it requires the people upstairs, like the state and, ultimately, the federal government, to act. And unfortunately, they’ve dragged their feet on offering solutions for renters that remotely meet the scale of this crisis. Back in May, to its credit, the house passed the Heroes Act, which provided $100 billion in rental assistance for the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, since then, the bill has stalled out in the senate — which is no surprise, as multiple high-level republicans have expressed their reticence to pass another relief package.

I think many people would like to just pause for a moment and take a look at the economic impact of this massive assistance program.
If the economy continues the momentum that we’re beginning to see over the last couple of weeks of data, then I think one might conclude that the stimulus that we’ve already passed is enough.
We need to assess what we’ve already done, take a look at what works and what didn’t, and we’ll discuss the way forward in the next couple weeks.

John: Oh, a couple of weeks? Really? Well, here’s the thing. That was back in May. We’re now at the end of June, nothing’s been passed, and rent is due on fucking Wednesday! That said, I know that time does not function the same way for Mitch McConnell as it does for everyone else. For instance, for us, today is June 28th, but for him — based on the way generally thinks, speaks, and behaves — the current date is somewhere around May 12th, 1853. And look, the sad truth is, we’ve already waited too long here. And there is absolutely no excuse for not attacking this problem with real urgency, because while we wait for congress to act, people like this woman are having to deal with the consequences.

Kianah Ashley is being evicted, and a nightmare is unfolding for her and her five-year-old son, Nazir.
That’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, because not knowing where you’re going to rest your head at for the next day, that’s not good.

John: Yeah, of course it’s not good. Everyone deserves the basic stability of shelter. And if you are in a position where you have begun to despise the house you’ve been shut inside for the last three and a half months, it is worth remembering that the only thing worse than knowing you’re going to spend another day stuck under the same roof is not knowing that. And while there are clearly no perfect options here, the very worst thing that we could do right now is nothing, because every day we fail to act is a day we’re compounding another future crisis for millions of vulnerable renters and their communities. We need to stop this before it gets even worse, and in the longer term, we badly need to solve our affordable housing crisis. Because then, and only then, to quote the world’s rudest Canadian, can we all get on with our miserable lives. And now this.

[Announcer] And now, the citizens of Palm Beach, Florida, have thoughts on mandatory face masks.
“My name is Butch and I am an American patriot. See that flag? I would die for that flag.”
“There is so much evidence, the CDC itself said they made a mistake, there is not enough to make this a pandemic. This is a plandemic.”
“You literally cannot mandate somebody to wear a mask knowing that mask is killing people.”
“Our Amazon Prime driver, a few weeks ago, was so weak from wearing his mask he begged my husband for Advil and water. He said “this mask is killing me.”
“And they want to throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door.”
“We have been discriminated.”
“I’m actually going to get discriminated against everywhere I go any more than I already am.”
“I am also the daughter of somebody who lived in Germany. I know a lot of stories. And this is sounding very familiar to me.”
“How will young children be able to know who the dangerous deviance are, like pedophiles and people on the human sex trafficking?”
“This is our right to not wear anything to cover our faces or hold our breath.”
“I would die for that country! I would die for the constitution! You know what? You disgrace me!”
“‘Cause I would dive for that flag.”
“I’m not wearing it today. Besides, despite what you guys do up here today, I’m not wearing one tomorrow. I was born free. I will stay free, my rights comes from God, not from you. I’m not wearing it, you’re going to have to hold me down and put it on me.”
“I don’t wear a mask for the same reason I don’t wear underwear. Things gotta breathe.”
[Fireworks popping]

John: Moving on. Finally tonight, another quick look at social media, that place where Zac Efron once tweeted “I’m thankful for a couple things today: Martin Luther King Jr. and 10 million followers on Instagram.” You know, it is a mixed bag. You might remember last week, we talked about how K-pop fans have been using social media to drown out racists online and do some good in the world. Well, this week, we’re going to talk about the exact opposite of that, because it turns out TikTok has a brand-new star, and it is the last person you want:

[ “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion, playing]
♪ I’m a savage ♪
♪ yeah ♪
♪ classy, bougie, ratchet ♪
♪ yeah ♪
♪ sassy, moody, nasty ♪
♪ hey, hey, yeah ♪
♪ acting stupid, what’s happening? ♪

John: Yes, that is John Schnatter, otherwise known as Papa John, riding a tiny tricycle around on TikTok to a Megan Thee Stallion song and asking “am I doing this right?” And obviously, no. You are not. But also, you do know what that means, teens: TikTok is officially shitty now.

Shitty now!

John: Yep. You knew it was always just a matter of time before some middle-aged white guy ruined your favorite online thing forever, but I’m guessing you didn’t know it was going to happen exactly like this. And that’s just one of many, many posts that Papa John has shared since significantly boosting his social media presence late last year. He’s used TikTok and Instagram to do things like give people a tour of his house — which, by the way, is something.

[John Schnatter] Howdy, Papa John, welcome to my crib. ♪ Ooh, ooh, what ♪ to start off, with the clock, eagles go up several thousand feet, they mate all the way down, and right before they hit the earth, they separate, so they don’t get hurt or killed. Perfect timing. Eagles mating, clock spins four times an hour.

John: Okay. Setting aside the neo-classical ejaculation that is his home, that is one hell of a statement entryway piece. And not to be pedantic, but we looked into it, and that’s not actually how eagles mate. While courtship displays take place in flight, eagles do not mate in the air. What you’re thinking of is Cirque du Soleil performers. They’re the ones who trapeze-fuck the shit out of each other way up high. Eagles, however, have sex in a nest or on a tree branch. And I’m not saying the man behind a pizza empire should have a particularly nuanced understanding of eagle fucking. But by making that the first thing that greets visitors when they enter your house, you kind of are presenting yourself as an expert. But wait, because part two of his tour was a glimpse into his office.

[John Schnatter] This is the bishop’s chair out of a church in Italy. We think that’s about 400 or 500 years old. It’s one of my favorite sayings, “all the best stuff in common, a regard for reality.”

John: Hold on. It seems Papa John printed out his favorite saying, framed it, and then placed it in the middle of a desk where it looks less like words of inspiration and more like the wifi password at a coffee shop. And for the record, that quote is by Polish Nobel prize winner Wislawa Szymborska who was commenting on the excesses of postmodern literature [“All the best have something in common, a regard for reality”]. And the incongruity of reading a 20th-century Polish poet’s quote about the value of staying grounded while standing in front of a five-century-old bishop’s chair in your 40,000-square-foot pizza castle is matched only by the incongruity of thinking that showing people this in the midst of a historic economic collapse would be good PR for you. Because, to be clear, Papa John’s sudden social media presence is part of a concerted pr campaign to repair his image, an image that needs quite a lot of repairing. Just to refresh your memory, Papa John actually had to leave his company following a series of controversies and scandals, from his 2017 comments that his company’s sales had been hurt by NFL leadership not clamping down hard enough on players protesting police brutality to this:

Founder and face of Papa John’s pizza is apologizing and admitting that a report he used the n-word on a conference call back in may is true.

John: Yeah. He apparently used the n-word on a conference call. And not just any conference call either — during a role-playing exercise focused on averting public relations crises. Which, in terms of contexts in which to say that word, is far and away the worst, tied only with every other context. Now, ever since, Papa John has tried to offer explanations for his behavior, arguing the conference call was leaked as a part of a conspiracy to remove him from his company and that he only used that slur in the course of explaining that he doesn’t use it. And that’s an argument he’s tried to make repeatedly, like in this interview, where he attempts to prove he’s not a fan of the n-word in the weirdest imaginable way:

[John Schnatter] If I go to dinner and someone uses that word — one time — don’t say the word. And I’ll get up and leave dinner. I really will. And I’ve done that more than once. But, um, it’s just not a good word.

John: Yeah, nothing says “I’m not a racist” like repeatedly making dinner plans with people who might say the n-word and then leaving once they do, in fact, say it. I didn’t realize there was a more repulsive type of Papa John’s dinner than this kind, but it does turn out I was wrong. And now, by his own admission, Papa John is posting on social media at the suggestion of his brand-new PR team, and one of the things he’s doing is trying to take ownership of some of the jokes that are made at his expense. For instance, that interview you just saw was him appearing on a podcast whose host has made fun of him for years, mocking him with the phrase “Papa Bless,” which he is now trying to reclaim, even selling t-shirts with the phrase on it, and also releasing thirsty online content like this:

[John Schnatter] Papa Bless? Or Papa Flex? [Chuckles]

John: I hate that. So much. And I’ve got to say, there’s something frankly insulting about him thinking that everyone is going to be happy to simply forget his past just because he’s doing some wacky things on the internet. And that why it’s been reassuring to see how some responded. Because if you click to see if anyone’s reacted to that TikTok, you’ll see plenty of people making disapproving faces or mocking him, or, in my favorite example, this man captioning his disapproval with, “get off my feed, little racist pizza man, your home is ugly and you have bad taste.” Which is absolutely excellent. And to that man, I say, kudos for doing in ten seconds what has taken me five minutes to do. That’s our show. We’re off for a couple of weeks, we’ll be back on July 19th. Until then good night!

[John Schnatter] Papa bless?

John: No. Absolutely not. Not being fun right now. Papa Stop! Papa Stop right now! This is grotesque. It doesn’t even look heavy!


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