Fifteen million people were at risk of eviction when the U.S. Supreme Court ended the Biden administration’s pandemic related eviction ban last August, ruling in favor of a real-estate interest group, among other plaintiffs. At every level, government has largely failed to stave off a housing crisis, leading to instability for a disproportionate number of Black renters. Black women, once again, are fighting to save them.
Miracle Fletcher, a tenant leader with the Trestletree United Tenants Association in southeast Atlanta, is among those advocates. Fletcher hasn’t observed her property management company regularly evicting tenants for non-payment of rent. But, she says, they can be evicted for other reasons. “The summer of last year, we started receiving a lot of lease violations for petty things like ‘sitting outside’ or ‘loitering,’” she says. “That’s what sparked us to organize.” After multiple violations, property managers can end a tenant’s lease, and it’s an uphill battle to challenge the validity of their claims. As recent court rulings like the Alabama Association of Realtors v. Department of Health and Human Services have shown, the property interests of landlords often outweigh the right to safe housing.
In New York, Community Voices Heard (CVH) has helped tenants complete applications for federal Emergency Rental Assistance and state programs, which state and local governments have been slow to distribute. Juanita O. Lewis, CVH executive director, notes that New York wasn’t prepared. “In our opinion, this program was thrown together,” she says. “If you don’t have adequate staffing, you can’t ensure that the online application works.” CVH has provided tablets and Internet hot spots to help tenants complete the forms. “But we’re only one small community organization doing this,” Lewis says.
Congressmember Cori Bush insists the federal government must do more
to help those facing eviction. Once homeless herself, she organized a sit-in
on the Capitol steps for many nights to protest the end of the eviction moratorium. “Congress was looking at the administration to extend the eviction ban, and the administration was looking to Congress to do it,” she says. “Meanwhile, the unhoused community is treated like they’re at fault and they should have done something different.”
In September, Rep. Bush wrote and introduced a bill designed to help keep
renters in their homes while the pandemic rages. As usual, what top government officials won’t do, many Black women will. But it shouldn’t be up to us to fix systemic problems that require widespread national solutions.
This story appears in the November/December 2021 issue of ESSENCE Magazine