Like all great comedic essayists, John Oliver traditionally ends his Last Week Tonight main stories with a kicker. But, in keeping with Oliver’s sense of urgency about the looming pandemic eviction crisis, and with apologies, it’s worth quoting the kicker in the lede. Addressing homebound viewers bemoaning another day’s realization that they’re going to stare at the same four walls, Oliver concluded, “The only thing worse than knowing you’re gonna spend another day stuck under the same roof is not knowing that.”
That’s the situation facing millions of Americans whose COVID-19-related layoffs, firings, job closures, and unemployment in this time of social and economic shutdown have left them simply unable to pay rent or mortgage. All of which is, as Oliver noted on his June 28 broadcast, due in three days. Now two days as you’re reading this. As ever, Oliver took both the long and short view of the issue of housing affordability and, as is his way, wound up exposing examples both individual and systemic of good old capitalism licking its chops at the prospect of tossing housing-vulnerable people literally out into the streets.
On the individual side—always a cathartic sideshow—Oliver shone a naked spotlight on worst-case landlords using this unprecedented, society-wide economic crisis to show just how the evil landlord stereotype came to be. One Michael Bowman, teleconferencing into local news with like an offworld-dweller in a dystopian movie, is heard saying, hey, “Its never fun throwing a single mother and her three kids out on the streets,” before finishing up—since reality is more predictable than the hackiest satire—by pronouncing blithely, “but its business.” Speaking of stereotypes, the “polite Canadian” specimen is shattered by an Arizona woman reading her north-of-the-border landlord’s response to her pleading email about late rent telling her and her dependent grandmother to go fuck themselves. And sure, Oliver tosses in one feel-good example, with a New York property manager named Mario Salerno (Sopranos accent and ominous-looking bolt cutters setting up the reveal) telling his 200 renters that he’s just straight-up cancelling that month’s rent since they’re all in this goddamned mess together.
But, as Oliver notes, not everyone is Mario, especially not federal officials (here naming Republican plutocratic white gatekeepers Larry Kudlow, Kevin Hassett, and—of course—Mitch McConnell), who are shown primly mocking Democrats’ House-passed HEROES Act, which would provide massive additional stimulus programs to help out the housing vulnerable, among other pandemic-drained Americans. And even while these avatars of governmental greed and out-of-touch “survival of the fittest” capitalism get the Oliver-tongued whipping they deserve (Oliver comes at “decomposing melon” and perpetually wrong economic advisor Kudlow particularly hard), Oliver notes that public shaming of the shameless isn’t going to change the fact that “rent is due on fucking Wednesday.” And that, while some states have put a freeze on evictions, that just means that those “it’s just business” landlords, banks, and mortgage companies are compiling a staggering and devastating backlog of eviction proceedings until the very moment that the capitalist gears are allowed to start grinding once again. You know, like on Wednesday.
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