A startup company by the name of Civvl is seeking to recruit temporary “gig” workers to assist landlords in evicting tenants who have been unable to pay rent in the midst of the economic depression triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Civvl is owned by OnQall, a developer that provides a platform for a number of other app-based services. However, Civvl is markedly different from the other apps, some of which are used for house-cleaning and mowing lawns.
The startup, described by VICE News as “Uber, but for evicting people,” has posted ads across the US looking for gig workers to join eviction crews to assist in what the company’s website calls “debris removal.” In other words, it is hiring people to clear out the possessions of evicted people.
Like opportunistic vultures, the company’s owners seek to take advantage of an economic crisis in which millions are unemployed and cut off from federal assistance. Desperate workers—in many cases struggling to pay rent themselves—are now to be utilized by the startup to evict other struggling people for the purpose of turning a profit.
The startup’s own website declares it to be the “FASTEST GROWING MONEY MAKING GIG DUE TO COVID-19.” The website assures its clients that “Civvl gets them out!” amid photos showing furniture and other possessions being hauled out into the streets with police standing by.
As Civvl’s Craigslist ads explain, “Unemployment is at a record high and many cannot or simply are not paying rent and mortgages.” It continues: “We are being contracted by frustrated property owners and banks to secure foreclosed residential properties. ... There is plenty of work due to the dismal economy.”
Amid a stream of bad press, the company adjusted the language on its website to indicate that it does not, in fact, carry out the evictions. However, this appears to be contradicted by the fact that among the positions listed is that of “process server,” a person who would be contracted with serving court documents and posting eviction notices on properties. Other services include that of “eviction standby.”
As for the legality of the evictions, the company makes clear in its terms of service that it is merely carrying out the dirty work of the landlord, who assumes all legal responsibility.
Many have expressed outrage over such blatant profiteering from the growing misery of masses of people. VICE News spoke with Helena Duncan, a Chicago housing activist and paralegal. “It’s f*cked up that there will be struggling working-class people who will be drawn to gigs like furniture-hauling or process-serving for a company like Civvl, evicting fellow working-class people from their homes so they themselves can make rent,” she said. Others expressed their indignation on Twitter with one user tweeting: “These people are just evil.”
The absurdity and criminality of this state of affairs will not be lost on workers. A CNN report on evictions from September 2 featured the eviction of an elderly Houston woman who could no longer afford to pay her rent. As the landlord’s mover hauled out her possessions, he lamented, “Maybe today it’s her, tomorrow it’s me.”
The CDC has imposed a moratorium on evictions effective through December 31, 2020. However, this hasn’t stopped landlords from resorting to illegal methods to evict their tenants, including utility shutoffs and intimidation tactics.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moratorium has been subject to different interpretations among varying state and local governments, leaving many low-income and vulnerable tenants at risk for eviction and homelessness.
Avery Kreemer, the founder of Ohio Eviction Watch, recently spoke to the WSWS on the eviction crisis in the state. He explained: “Each county and each court will interpret the moratorium differently,” said Kreemer. “One of our reporters lives up in Akron, and someone from the Legal Aid Society told her about a woman who lives on the county line. The court she lives under decided she was not covered under the CDC order, but if she had lived two miles to the west she would have been protected under that court.”
Despite the CDC moratorium, many renters are unaware of the protections available to them, and landlords take advantage of this ignorance to carry out illegal evictions. In some states, tenants must fill out a declaration in order to remain exempt from eviction. In other states, such as Maryland, tenants may be required to provide documentation to assert that they qualify for exemption.
Phillip DeVon, an eviction prevention specialist at the Chicago-based Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) told VICE, “One thing we know just from experience, especially with housing: just because something is technically legal, doesn’t by any stretch mean that it’s right, ethically speaking.” Regarding Civvl, DeVon said, “With this particular company, it sounds like they’re doing what landlords often do, which is prey upon a lack of knowledge and information about people’s rights.” He added, “It’s very dishonest. … It’s like, ‘Oh, don’t call us a hitman. We don’t pull the trigger! We just connect you with someone who’s willing to.’”
The eviction crisis in the US, as part of the broader social catastrophe brought about by the pandemic depression, is rapidly assuming monstrous dimensions. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), which is tracking growing rates of unemployment, hunger and general hardship, some 11.8 million adult renters—or nearly 1 in 6—were unable to pay their rent last month.
The CBPP acknowledges this to be a significant undercount since younger, less educated, and Black and Hispanic renters—demographics that are statistically more likely to be struggling to pay rent—were less likely to respond to the survey. The advisory firm Stout Risius Ross conducted an analysis that concluded that as many as 34 million people may be at risk for eviction.
Unemployment, which is closely tied to difficulties paying rent, is still at record highs. The CBPP, having analyzed the Census Bureau population survey, concluded that some 31 million people were unemployed, or lived with an unemployed family member. Among them are 7 million children. The CBPP further acknowledges this to be an undercount, since it doesn’t include workers who have been furloughed, workers who have given up on looking for a job, and people who are caring for sick relatives and/or their children because of closed schools. If the family members of these workers are counted, some 54 million people—1 in 6 in the country—live in households with a disenfranchised worker.
The owners of Civvl clearly anticipate the avalanche of evictions that is coming. Its website states frankly, “Moratorium ends Dec 31, 2020,” and urges landlords to “Secure your booking and act fast.”
While the company is rightly receiving widespread condemnation, it would be mistaken to characterize this phenomenon as an anomaly. The entire capitalist system is predicated on violence and exploitation.
The appearance of a startup such as Civvl is merely the odious expression of an old maxim, made infamous by Democrat Rahm Emanuel, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” The opportunism of Civvl is reflected on the grand scale by pharmaceutical companies such as Regeneron, which is set to make a fortune from its Covid-19 treatment. Even though the project was federally funded—to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars—the treatment will likely be unaffordable for a great majority of the population, even as the company’s executives—already the highest paid in the industry—are due to receive billions of dollars.
In an economic system that subordinates everything, even human life, to the accumulation of wealth, it is perfectly logical to take advantage of a situation in which millions of human beings may be expelled from their homes. A bourgeois political economist would undoubtedly praise the entrepreneurial spirit displayed by Civvl’s owners, as well as the genius of their business model: utilizing unemployed poor people to remove other poor people from their residences.
The despicable attempts by this startup to prey upon the misery afflicting millions of working people is mirrored by the machinations of a ruthless financial oligarchy that has taken advantage of the pandemic crisis to engineer a multitrillion-dollar bailout to itself. The ecstatic booming of the stock markets and the exorbitant increase in the wealth of the richest 1 percent are to be contrasted with the growth of severe poverty and misery among the masses of the working class.
This is not an aberration, it is the inevitable result of capitalism, and it is how the system is designed to function. As the decay of American capitalism accelerates, it will be reflected in increasingly degenerate displays of greed and opportunism by the ruling class.