Posts Tagged ‘eviction’

Photo: Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (United Renters For Justice) via NextCity.
A collective of Minneapolis renters, now known as the Corcoran Five, were key to winning a landmark $18.5 million class-action settlement against their landlord. Not long after, in 2020, they signed a purchase agreement for the five buildings in question and began turning them into a tenant-run co-op.

Do the little guys ever win? They do if they organize. As Evicted author Matthew Desmond reminded readers at the New York Times, ” ‘The weapons of the weak are always weak weapons,’ the French historian Lucien Bianco once wrote. It’s true. Paper flowers, homemade noisemakers: it’s not much. … But you cannot deny that that was, and has always been, a true power in American life.” 

In his 2020 article, Desmond dug into one particular organizing success, beginning his story with a Minneapolis City Council meeting that took place in May of that year.

“Vanessa del Campo Chacón rose to speak. An immigrant from Veracruz, Mexico, who ran an in-home day care from her small apartment, Chacón spoke in Spanish, and a bearded young man knelt by her side and translated. This was Roberto de la Riva, co-director of Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia (United Renters for Justice), a tenants’ rights organization that also goes by the abbreviation IX. ‘I’m hours or days from being evicted, and I don’t think the city has deemed this pertinent enough to be involved and to take responsibility,’ Chacón said. ‘We want dignified homes,’ she continued. ‘I’m asking for my daughter and for all the families that are here.’ 

“As she spoke, two other tenants approached the dais and, standing behind the council members, unfurled a huge yellow banner that read, ‘Don’t Evict Vanessa.’

“ ‘I’m sorry,’ the council president, Lisa Bender, interjected. ‘We can’t allow people to come back behind the dais.’ … She was sympathetic to the tenants, but she also had a meeting to run. Before Bender could finish, the room erupted. …

“After a bailiff escorted the tenants off the dais, Vanessa’s neighbor, Chloé Jackson, approached the lectern, pressing her hands together as if in prayer. A Black woman with plastic-rimmed glasses, Jackson was raising her teenage son, Trayvon, on the $15.69-an-hour wage she earned at the airport iStore. ‘We don’t know exactly how long any of us have,’ Jackson said. … ‘You guys get to go home tonight, sleep in the comfort of your beds,’ she said. ‘We have to wonder about this every single night.’

“This was not the first time Jackson and IX organizers had confronted the City Council. For years, Jackson, Chacón and other residents of five buildings in the city’s Corcoran neighborhood had been involved in a prolonged battle against their landlord, Stephen Frenz, and his business partner, Spiros Zorbalas. The tenants had mobilized for better conditions, resisted evictions and participated in a rent strike. They had banded together and pushed the City Council to revoke Frenz’s rental license. It eventually did, stripping his ability to collect rent. But Frenz still owned the apartments where Jackson and Chacón lived. He wanted everybody out so he could renovate and sell to the highest bidder. The tenants had another idea: They wanted Frenz to sell to them.

“Today, in the pandemic economy, millions of renters are at risk of eviction. Even the expanded provisions supplied by the CARES Act — the $600-a-week supplements to states’ stingy unemployment insurance — weren’t doing enough to shield many renting families from homelessness. … Watching this looming eviction crisis take shape, I’ve often thought of those Minneapolis tenants, whom I followed over the last year and a half. I went to report on them — the security guards, store clerks and night-shift custodians — because I wanted to see what happened when a group of tenants organized against a pair of landlords who owned hundreds of apartments generating, as of 2016, a net operating income of approximately $300,000 a month (or $3.6 million annually). Over the course of my reporting, I saw the tenants reimagine — and then reinvent — what stable, affordable housing could look like in their community. I saw them fight,” wrote Desmond in the Times, “and I saw them win.”

The lengthy article goes on to describe key players. Jackson, for example, was not always an activist. Far from it. Desmond explains how it happened gradually.

“Near the end of 2017, Roberto de la Riva knocked on Chloé Jackson’s door on 22nd Avenue South. Jackson opened the door, sighed and asked, ‘Why do you people keep knocking?’

“Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Jackson moved to Minneapolis in 2013, after the Mall of America hired her in its housekeeping department. She was 28 and had an 8-year-old son. Three years earlier, she became the legal guardian of three teenagers, after their mother, Jackson’s aunt, died. She and her boyfriend kept food on the table — she worked at McDonald’s; he was a mechanic — until all three of her cousins were out of the house. By that time, she needed a break and figured a new city might do the trick.

“In Minneapolis, she found a $625-a-month, one-bedroom apartment in the Corcoran neighborhood, within walking distance of the Lake Street light-rail stop. Giving her son the bedroom, Jackson slept in the living room by a pinkish-orange salt lamp and an 8-by-10-inch photograph of her mother. Jackson took a series of jobs, finally landing at the airport iStore, where she was working full time when de la Riva knocked on her door. As its assistant manager, Jackson woke up at 2:30 each morning; got breakfast ready for her son; fed her cat, Kitty; and hopped on the light rail to the airport, arriving at 3:40 a.m. to open the store.

“When Jackson first moved in, she found her landlord, Stephen Frenz, to be fairly responsive. But seeing the condition of the units inhabited by her neighbors, many of them undocumented immigrants, changed her perspective. Jackson often pulled out a bucket or two to catch the leaks. But to sit at a neighbor’s table for coffee, she often had to step over some half-dozen buckets. Many units had roaches and mice, filthy carpets. (Frenz told me that Jackson’s leak and those of other tenants were mended and that tenants’ lack of cleanliness caused the pest infestations.) ‘I felt so bad,’ Jackson remembered. ‘These are people who didn’t know English, and I felt like this man was taking advantage of them.’ …

“Jackson began warming to the idea of buying the properties. She had long tried to avoid this path, hoping to live a quiet life. But haltingly at first, then all at once, Jackson was becoming, as they say in the movement, ‘politicized.’ “

I can’t cover the whole Times article here, but I recommend anything Matthew Desmond writes. I do want to share this part this part of the story for Mother’s Day: “On May 18, Jackson was sitting in her apartment, on a Zoom call with other IX organizers. In the middle of their meeting, several organizers received a simple text from Eddie Landenberger of Land Bank Twin Cities. It read: ‘We closed.’ Landenberger’s text let everyone know that they had finally done it. They had bought the Corcoran Five.

“The tenants yelled and whooped. …

“ ‘Why’s everyone screaming?’ Jackson’s son, Trayvon, asked, coming out of his bedroom. He was 16 now, handsome and half a foot taller than Jackson.

“ ‘Son, come here,’ she said. ‘We closed on the buildings.’

“ ‘Oh, Mom,’ he said, reaching out in embrace. ‘I’m so proud of you.’ ”

The Times article is here. For a version of the story without a firewall, see reporter Cinnamon Janzer at NextCity, here.

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Photo: Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune.
Linda Taylor talks with a friend as he ferried her paintings to an art show in April. Taylor has lived her Powderhorn Park home for about 20 years and was nearly forced out when her landlord decided to sell.

Here’s a story of people coming together to help a neighbor who was about to be evicted. It’s not necessarily about a greedy landlord. It’s more about systems that make it almost impossible for a person without money to get ahead. And about the power of community.

“Linda Taylor,” writes Sydney Page at the Washington Post, “was given two months’ notice from her landlord to vacate the Minneapolis house she has proudly called home for nearly two decades.

‘It felt like the world had been pulled from under me,’ said Taylor, 70. ‘My house means everything to me.’

“She initially owned the house, but she sold it when she fell prey to a real estate deal she didn’t understand, she said, and has rented the home for about 15 years.

“Earlier this year, Taylor received an unexpected notice from her landlord to leave her white stucco home in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood, just a few miles south of downtown, by April 1. Her landlord wanted to sell the house and was asking for $299,000 — a sum Taylor could not afford. …

“She worked at a local nonprofit organization for nearly three years before she was laid off during the coronavirus pandemic.

“She lost her paycheck but continued paying rent — about $1,400 a month — using her savings, money from family and government subsidies including RentHelpMN, a program started during the pandemic to aid Minnesotans at risk of losing housing.

“[Taylor’s landlord] said he would evict her if she didn’t buy the home or leave. …

“ ‘I’m going to do something about it,’ Taylor remembered telling herself. ‘This is my house.’

“She decided to share her struggle with Andrew Fahlstrom, 41, who lives across the street and works professionally as a housing rights organizer. Since he moved to the neighborhood six years ago with his partner, he and Taylor have built a strong rapport. …

“ ‘So many people are losing housing right now,’ he said. ‘If we actually believe housing is a right, then we need to act like it, because the next stop is homelessness.’

“As word of the grass-roots campaign to save Taylor’s home spread around the block, neighbors were eager to help.

“ ‘People listened to what Miss Linda was saying and wanted to do something,’ Fahlstrom said. ‘It was just such a clear and compelling story that everyone rallied for her.’

“According to Taylor, she originally bought the house in 2004, but she started falling behind on payments and felt she was tricked into signing the house back over to the previous owner, who allowed her to stay on as a renter. In 2006, after her landlord was caught in a mortgage fraud scheme — which affected more than 45 homes, including hers — [her new landlord] purchased the house.

“He raised her rent twice during the pandemic, Taylor said, and let repairs and maintenance issues linger. Several times over the years, Taylor — who has five children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren — went to social services and applied for programs and grants geared toward renters who want to buy their homes.

“ ‘Every time I tried to buy it, I ran into a ton of different walls,’ Taylor said, adding that although she knew ‘my children would always support me,’ they were not in a position to offer significant financial help.

“Her neighbors empathized with her predicament.

“ ‘This is a person who has been paying for housing for 18 years. Her rent has gone to pay the property taxes, other people’s mortgages, the insurance, and supposedly repairs, too,’ Fahlstrom said. ‘There needs to be more systemic intervention so that people can stay in their homes.’

“The Powderhorn Park community decided it would not allow their neighbor to be displaced. The group was well equipped to mobilize on Taylor’s behalf.

“ ‘We have an active local neighborhood group because we’re within two blocks of George Floyd Square,’ Fahlstrom said, adding that the 2020 protests over Floyd’s murder by a police officer brought the community closer. …

“Organizers sent a letter to the landlord, urging him to wait on eviction and start negotiations with Taylor so she could buy the house. It was signed by about 400 neighbors and hand-delivered to [him] in February.

“The plea worked. … He lowered the sale price to $250,000 — still out of reach for his tenant.

“ ‘Then it became a fundraising effort instead of an eviction defense effort,’ Fahlstrom said.

“Neighbor Julia Eagles was at the forefront of the initiative.

“ ‘I don’t want anyone getting displaced or priced out of the community,’ Eagles said. ‘We all believed collectively that we were going to do what it takes to keep Miss Linda here. So many people know and love this woman.’ …

“In just four months, the people of Powderhorn Park raised $275,000 for Taylor — enough to buy her home and cover repairs. Any additional funds will go toward utility payments.

“Taylor said she is stunned by the support. …

“She is determined to pay the kindness forward.

“ ‘I’m here to help the next person and the next person and the next person,’ she said.”

More about the effects of community organizing at the Post, here. You can also read about this at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where there’s no firewall.

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America, January 12, 2020

At a time of year that many communities around the world are telling the story of finding shelter in a stable, it feels ironic that even in a pandemic wealthy countries can’t find it in their hearts to protect people from being evicted.

In America, if the December rescue bill is signed, renters will be protected until the end of January 2021, about a month.

Coronavirus shut down businesses, and people lost jobs and couldn’t pay rent. Have we no collective will to protect the most vulnerable? Landlords, especially small landlords, need protection, too. It’s not just up to them.

The burden of pandemic losses must fall on us as a group. As a taxpayer, that would be my priority. I can do without more bombers and military aid to Saudi Arabia. As a people, many of us celebrating Christmas today, what are our priorities? What does Christmas mean?

At the Washington Post, Heather Long and Rachel Siegel interviewed Americans who are in danger at this season.

“Most told The Post they are ‘not political people’ and are struggling to understand why Congress and the president would be able to celebrate Christmas when 14 million Americans are slated to lose unemployment aid on Saturday, the government is set to shut down on Tuesday, and an eviction moratorium that has prevented millions from losing their homes during a pandemic ends on New Year’s Eve.

“Waitress Robyn Saban summed up the sentiment of many: ‘I’ve worked for 18 years at a diner under very hard conditions. I never called in sick except when my husband died. And now Congress is just leaving town. It makes me furious because they are leaving people hanging.’ …

“Tony Bowens, 31, spent nine days in a hospital in March fighting for his life against the deadly coronavirus. In many ways, he’s just grateful this Christmas to be home with his wife and two kids, even though very little is the same. As his family struggles to pay rent, he can’t believe [there’s no] agreement on aid. …

“Bowens has ongoing complications from covid: Headaches, temperatures that spike for a day, crippling leg pains and trouble breathing. He lost his IT job in March and has not been able to work since. He received $65 a week in unemployment through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that Congress created this year to assist independent contractors and gig workers like him, but it will end the day after Christmas unless a relief bill gets enacted.

“His family is barely getting by on his wife’s job as a state government worker in Illinois. They are behind on rent and the electric bill, and they worry about more layoffs for state workers.

“Bowens said extending unemployment is ‘one of the most important things’ in the relief package because a $600 one-time check won’t last long, ‘but unemployment would go for 11 weeks. I was going to be able to get that again.’ ”

More on evictions at the News and Observer in Charlotte, North Carolina, here, at US News, here, at the Washington Post, here, and at CNBC, here. Eviction Lab is worth checking, too, here.

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Not an appropriate quote, but I can’t keep it from coming into my head:
“Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
“That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
“Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
“That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.”

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