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Austin Server Demands Rent Reductions as Job Losses Mount During Coronavirus Pandemic

Olamaie server Arjav Ezekiel started a petition to get the City of Austin and the mayor to require that landlords charge “at cost” residential rents for service industry employees

A waiter serving dishes to a table of diners
A waiter serving dishes to a table of diners
Nadia Chaudhury is the editor of Eater Austin covering food and pop culture, as well as a photographer, writer, and frequent panel moderator and podcast guest.

In light of the novel coronavirus pandemic that has seen the cancellation of South by Southwest and dramatically impacted Austin restaurants, a local restaurant server has started a petition calling on the city to help alleviate the financial woes he and his fellow industry workers will endure with the loss of income.

Olamaie server Arjav Ezekiel’s petition specifically asks the City of Austin and Mayor Steve Adler to require that landlords to charge “at cost” residential rents for service industry workers for the next two months. This would take into consideration the fact that many, if not most, of the city’s service industry folks have been and will lose income because of the loss of SXSW events and jobs as well as the social distancing recommended in light of COVID-19 and local restaurants temporarily shuttering or modifying service, thus requiring fewer or no employees.

Under the proposed mandate, renters affected by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the hospitality industry would pay a base amount of the rent, minus any overhead or profits for landlords. Ezekiel started the petition because he and his colleagues were talking about what they’re really worried about right now: rent. It “seems reasonable that if landlords are kept whole,” he told Eater, “they can afford to not make a profit for a couple of months, if it means not evicting people.”

“This is not a time for profit,” Ezekiel wrote in the petition, “and sadly, so many members of our restaurant community are going to struggle to make rent this month.”

His current place of employment, Southern restaurant Olamaie, announced that it was closing temporarily because of the pandemic. Salaried workers will be paid reduced rates, but hourly workers like Ezekiel were furloughed, according to Austin 360.

Similarly, Texas French Bread announced its temporary shutter last night, which meant owner Murph Willcott had to lay off around 50 employees.

As of the publishing of this article, there have been over 1,200 signatures beyond the required number of 1,000.