There aren't many upsides to our long, and still ongoing, global pandemic. But if there is something that could be considered a positive development throughout all this, it's been COVID's ability to lay bare in blunt, unambiguous terms, the latticework of inequities and injustices upon which much everyday life is based. Looming large among those inequalities is the issue of rental properties, and the landlords to whom flow huge sums of money for little, if any, actual labor.
While both the federal and local governments have stepped in to various degrees to ensure renters — many of whom are unable to pay rent due to the economic downturn spurred by the pandemic — are protected from life-threatening evictions during COVID, a Florida landlord has taken a different, more craven approach to public health. He's threatened to evict anyone living or working in his 1,200 Miami-area units who hasn't been vaccinated.
"As of Aug. 15, all new tenants must show proof of vaccination before moving in," a property management company owned by landlord Santiago A. Alvarez wrote in a memo posted to the doors of his buildings. "Existing tenants must show proof of vaccination before leases are renewed."
For Alvarez, it's a question of both public health and employee safety. "It very much upsets me that my employees are exposed to [COVID] all days of the week because there is someone who does not want to get vaccinated," he explained to The Washington Post. "If you don't want to get vaccinated, I have the obligation and the duty to protect my workers and tenants."
"You don't want to get vaccinated? You have to move," he added. "If you don't move, one must move forward with eviction."
The instinct to protect those in his charge, admirable if patronizing as it may be, reveals a deeper, more problematic selfishness. Aside from the questionable legality of a landlord requiring both new and existing tenants be vaccinated — particularly in Florida, where Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has staked his political future on being as permissive as possible in regards to his state's COVID response — Alvarez's policy is a starkly craven approach to public health. Whether someone is unvaccinated due to a misguided ideology, or simply because of the structural barriers to vaccination that exist for many (particularly marginalized communities), denying that person a basic right like housing is dangerous not only under the best of circumstances, but particularly when that person would now possibly be forced into mass, temporary shelter in which they would be at an even higher risk for contracting the virus and possibly spreading it.
By positioning the basic right to housing and the need for vaccinations as a zero-sum scenario, Alvarez has created a situation in which he, a landlord with real power over his residents, has become a biased arbiter of the morality of people whose money he regularly takes.
To be clear, there is a legitimate need for mass vaccinations, and efforts to convince, direct, and even coerce holdouts into getting the shot are in service of the greater public good. But that responsibility belongs to lawmakers and public health officials — not arbitrary landlords whose sole leverage is owning, and profiting from, a person's basic human need to have a roof over their head.