Coronavirus & Housing

by Shakilya Lawrence

Photo by Craig Adderley from Pexels

Although the world is beginning to reopen, the aftermath of the coronavirus continues to linger in most communities. Within the U.S., the pandemic has unfortunately created a multitude of different problems - from rising unemployment, overt racial disparities, housing issues, to an untimely recession, we can all agree that this pandemic has taken its toll. As unemployment numbers have continued to soar within the United States—despite the reopening of multiple states—issues like rent/mortgage cancellation and forgiveness, eviction moratoriums, the racial disparities of Covid-19 in minority populations have become hot topics as we try to navigate through a coronavirus-affected world. With the threat of the virus remaining and with no official cure yet, it's important to raise awareness and tackle these issues that are affecting millions across the nation.

The Right to the City Alliance is a Brooklyn-based group focused on building a strong housing and urban justice movement in America and beyond. There's an emphasis in their activism on the disenfranchised as they fight injustices and support democracy and sustainability within cities across the U.S. Their town hall—held virtually through Facebook Live on June 2nd— addressed the injustices and racial disparities we've been seeing nationwide concerning our housing issues since the beginning of Covid-19. The organization invited other Black-led organizations, tenants, and community organizers to discuss their solutions to the effects of coronavirus and housing existing within the communities. These groups came from different areas across the U.S. encompassing Florida, Mississippi, Indiana, and Michigan. They all work together under the banner of Beyond Recovery, a campaign to cancel rent, mortgage, and utility payments, prohibit the shut off of utilities, and guarantee permanent housing for all as a direct response to the coronavirus. Due to our nation's current tensions surrounding our police-state, the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement were also touched upon within the 3 hour-long town hall meeting.

During the Facebook Live, Frangy Pozo—moderator and social media staffer from the Right To The City Alliance—helped lead the discussion of topics like eviction moratorium and defense, utility extensions, mutual aid, community projects, and community-led advocacy. The following groups/community leaders were present for the town hall discussion.*

● Adrian Madriz - housing organizer for Miami Workers Center

● Rosalie "Ms. Cookie" Whiley - former chair and current housing member for Miami Workers Center and resident of Liberty City 15 years

● Leah Humphrey - Black Lives Matter Indianapolis organizer and Social Media Director of the KHEPRW Institute

● Sacajawea Hall - Co-founder of Cooperation Jackson

● Rev. Roslyn Bouier - community pastor, activist, and Executive Director of Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry in Detroit

*Some speakers brought on other members from their organizations to help further the discussion.

Each organization spoke on its own platform in detail explaining how they've been involved within the communities during the pandemic and even before. Members gave personal testimony to the housing injustices and disparities seen within their communities and discussed plans to attack and fix these issues. Many of the housing issues spoken upon were present before the pandemic in low-income neighborhoods i.e. unfavorable/slum conditions in housing, unbelievable rent increases, living within food deserts, etc. However, the pandemic has exacerbated the current problems placing even more financial and emotional strain on the people within these communities. Those sentiments are only the tip of the iceberg as they also face a major health threat due to their living conditions and potential exposure to the coronavirus if successfully evicted. Homelessness was brought up as a crucial health issue to address as well due to the potential threat of virus exposure and the inability to properly quarantine.

A common theme amongst many of the speakers was to help spread information on housing policies and issues to assist people who might be dealing with these problems in other communities across the country. It was emphasized that lack of information about the eviction moratorium, tactics on how to talk to landlords, and housing laws, in general, has kept people uninformed about their rights. In their advocacy, there has been the importance of having these conversations within the community. The result has gotten more people involved in housing issues and policy, giving people a chance to make a difference within their community. Another common thread amongst housing issues seen with the states represented—and even across the country—is that these issues are disproportionately affecting Black communities at a higher rate. The Black working class have been profiled and targeted by our current housing crisis, suffering racial and economic injustices as a result. Many people within these communities live on fixed incomes as Ms. Cookie pointed out in her segment. However, tactics like rent and mortgage increases—even within Section 8 housing—coupled with poor living conditions have been the reality of many working-class Black Americans. These conditions place additional stress on Black tenants as they have to figure out plans to maintain their housing amidst the global pandemic.

Thankfully, these groups have been working diligently to change these conditions. Outside of spreading knowledge and raising awareness, many of the groups had been working within their states to extend the one-month eviction moratorium. Community-based projects have also been at the forefront of their advocacy. The Miami Workers Center currently has a campaign to develop a community land trust which would help promote community benefits and ultimately help with building housing for those affected by the racial, sexual, and economic disparities seen within Miami's low-income communities. In Jackson, Mississippi, Cooperation Jackson has also created a community land trust towards community development and is working towards redefining our workforce through workers' cooperatives and other self-managed democratic enterprises. The goal of these community-based projects is to put power back into the people to help benefit and build up low-income communities while also providing opportunities.

The Right To The City Alliance and every organization featured within this town hall have been fighting tirelessly for housing, safety, dignity, and stability for all, no matter the race, ethnicity, or social status. Their town hall was a reminder that many of the issues we face within the housing crisis overlap with issues within economic and racial disparities, police enforcement, and even our environment across the country. Because of their intersectionality, we cannot attack one without addressing the others. Through awareness, we can start the conversation and through community-based projects, we can specifically confront and change our current housing injustices. These organizations are proof that through the spread of knowledge and advocacy, we can effectively begin to fight our current housing issues and eventually, reach a point where housing is accessible to all.

If you would like to listen to the discussion and hear each platform stated by the groups involved, the full link to Facebook Live can be found here.


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