Prison conditions: “We have the resources. We just seem to not have the compassion”

 

No hurt I did not feel, no death
That was not mine; mine each last breath
That, crying, met an answering cry
From the compassion that was I.
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Recently, three stories concerning dangerous, often fatal, prison conditions collided. In the United States, incarcerated people in Texas face a brutal summer without air conditioning. Objecting to being “cooked to death”, incarcerated people and supporters have filed a lawsuit, which claims that at least 40 incarcerated people died of heat related causes. In England, Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor issued an “urgent notification” about conditions in HMP Wandsworth, England’s second largest prison. Taylor has been Chief Inspector of Prisons for four years. In his report on Wandsworth, Taylor noted he encountered “a degree of despondency he had not come across in his time as chief inspector“. In the past year, seven people died of self-inflicted wounds.  The number and intensity of elf harm cases is rising. The Chief Inspector issued an “urgent notification”, meaning the State has to `improve’ the conditions at Wandsworth. In Mexico, in Morelos, in el Centro Federal de Readaptación Social, a women’s prison, 15 women have died in the past four years. In 2023, eleven women died. The prison claims the deaths were suicides. Public defenders and allies argue that the deaths resulted from violations of the women’s rights to access health care. The National Human Rights Commission recently documented such violations. In response to the situation in Texas prisons, State Representative Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto, commented, “We have the resources. We just seem to not have the compassion to do it.”

We don’t have the compassion. Once, compassion meant “suffering together”. Both parts carried equal weight. One who felt compassion suffered; one who felt compassion was intimately bound with the other. Compassion meant staying with, in suffering. More than sympathy, more than affinity, compassion required continued empathetic solidarity. When it comes to prisons and jails, we have not stayed. More precisely, we have refused to stay with. Over the years, government officials have repeatedly described HMP Wandsworth as a death trap. The reports generate a day, maybe a week, of attention, and then it’s gone. Over the years, Texas prisons have been sued, repeatedly and successfully, for the criminal conditions in which people are held, particularly in the summers. The reports generate a day, maybe a week, of attention, and then it’s gone. Over the years, government officials have criticized el Centro Federal de Readaptación Social for its violations of prisoners’, of women’s, rights. Those reports generate a day, maybe a week, of attention, and then it’s gone.

Marci Marie Simmons, a formerly incarcerated woman and the community outreach coordinator for the Lioness Justice Impacted Women’s Alliance, an organization in Texas, said, “The fact is, if we don’t get air conditioning in these facilities now, people are going to die this summer.” People are going to die this summer as they did last. We have the resources. We just seem not to have the compassion.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Michelle Pitcher / Texas Observer)

People don’t eat (manifestos)

People don’t eat (manifestos)

People don’t eat
manifestos (and the like)
says a voice-note
on a midday radio show

(it’s just a radio show
that could be anywhere
your country or mine
if you and I do indeed
have a country)

manifestos and manifesto-ing
manifesto-ing and manifestos
is everyone showboating
up a street-lit pole

(an injury to one
is an injury to all)

People don’t eat
manifestos whatever
their nutritional value
junk food or junk status

People don’t eat
manifestos whatever
their and their offsprings’
literacy and numeracy levels

despite manifestos
in spite of manifestos
even because of manifestos
and the promises up your
street-lit pole or otherwise

People don’t eat
manifestos
People don’t eat
People don’t
People

 

(By David Kapp)

No More 24: Hunger Strike by Home Health Attendants in NYC

It is the third day of the hunger strike outside City Hall in New York City, March 22, 2024. I emerge from the subway into the brisk chill of Spring. Although the buds have begun showing on the trees, the hunger strikers and those who have gathered are bundled up in winter gear, holding up signs and chanting, “No More 24,” “Stop the 24-hour Workday,” and “Speaker Adams Give Back Our Health.” The home care workers “demand that the union stop its collusion with home care agencies and insurance companies to maintain the racist, sexist, and unjust 24-hour workday.” Bill 0615 has been introduced to the City Council demanding a ban to the 24-hour shift and cap the shift to 12 hours.

For the last several years Ain’t I a Woman campaign has been advocating for the home health aides with City Council for an increase in wages as well as for reasonable hours with breaks. While wage increase to $18 an hour has been honored, the pay covers only 13 of the 24 hours, which means the home health attendants are exploited and the city owes them back pay for the hours of overtime. The current inflation demands an even further increase of the minimum wage.

Many of the strikers speak Mandarin. So the speakers at the rally organized by Ain’t I a Woman Campaign have translators who summarize their speeches, translating them into Chinese for the workers. I know that there are other immigrant workers there as well, but I don’t meet them today. I meet organizers from National Mobilization Against Sweatshops, Socialist Democratic Party, Gabriela (a Filipina feminist organization) to CROC (a group of retirees fighting the City to protect their health benefits), and others.

The strikers sit in the shadow of City Hall Park, under umbrellas, a meager protection from the wind and the impending rain forecasted for the next day. Some of them mingle with the gathering to speak and then go back to their chairs to rest. It takes a lot of energy for them to answer people who interview them with the help of translators, since they have been subsisting on just water, Gatorade and broth. We are assured that the strikers have been evaluated by doctors before the strike and the doctors are on call during the 5-day strike to check on them.

I am out here in NYC on this third day of the workers’s hunger strike because I am from Suffolk county, Long Island where many of the workers live since it is unaffordable to live in Manhattan. The faces of workers sitting on the lounge chairs light up when I say I am a writer. They also connect with me as a fellow immigrant. They gesture that I should write about the strike.

I speak to Lai Yee Chan and Ling, two middle aged women, who have placed their chairs on the subway grates to get some warmth. They say that the 24-hour shift has been extremely strenuous on their bodies. My friend, Susan, asks them through an interpreter if they need any supplies. They say they cannot eat anything. She says, “I mean, like gloves or lotions or scarves.” They shake their heads. One of the organizers, Kaitlyn, says she is collecting supplies and tarps are essential as rain was expected the following day. I worry about the women gathered in the cold and if they would get sick being out in the dampness of night. How can the tarps really protect them? I speak to Alee through an interpreter. She says she works for more than 24-hour shifts, sometimes 48 hours straight with barely 2-3 hours of sleep. “My back hurts. I take care of an old couple and it is hard to do the work without rest.” She means that taking care of old patients requires lifting them for some of their needs. She continues, “I cannot see my grandchild. I miss out on being with him.”

I speak at the rally organized by Ain’t I a Woman campaign. I say that a hunger strike is serious. It means that these workers are willing to put their bodies on the line to fight for humane working hours. How can a 24-hour shift be acceptable in a country that believes in equity and is the richest in the world? And most of all, these are immigrant women who are being discriminated against, both as women and as people of color. Their work of taking care of patients is devalued just as their bodies are devalued. If the health of a patient is important, then shouldn’t the health of a care worker be vital? I talk about my experience of hiring home health aides for my disabled mom in Chennai, India. The organization that set up the aides were very clear that they had to work in 12-hour shifts with mandated breaks and a fair pay that was commensurate with the cost of living. I said that I encountered justice in work hours and pay in a country that is called a developing nation. So, reasonable hours can definitely be worked out in the New York, if there is political will.

We are gathered to rally with the hunger strikers to push for that political will to manifest. Before I speak, I hear a professor explain the value of hunger strikes and how globally activists have had to go hungry to be able to get their governments and lawmakers or other administrative body to hear their demands, and she cites Dalit activists in India most recently who have been on hunger strike to fight policies that are unjust. I think of the strike that became internationally known, of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student in the University of Hyderabad who went on hunger strike to demand that the university not dock his allowance because he was part of the Ambedkar Students Association.

Will Council speaker Adrienne Adams come around to accept the workers’ demands? The strike ends on Sunday, March 24. Then what? We have yet to see what the outcome is for the workers. I will say that participating as a witness to this strike has been a political lesson for me about the position of women’s labor in the workplace, about the boldness of women workers whose bodies have been hurt by the 24-hour shift but are willing to fast putting their bodies at further risk, so they and other women do not have to suffer the inhumanity of one, two, or three-day shifts and that, too, without compensation and at the cost of their health. I learned about the difficulty of getting government to hear the workers’ demands, despite the involvement of a well-respected union. Will bill 0615 be passed? Let’s see.

 

( by Pramila Venkateswaran: Pramila Venkateswaran is a professor at Nassau Community College and is also a feminist activist, a poet and a scholar. She is the President of the Suffolk chapter of the National Organization for Women.)

(Photos by Pramila Venkateswaran)

Millions of affordable homes have disappeared over the past decade

“Millions of lower-cost apartments have essentially disappeared over the past decade, either through rising rents or by falling into disrepair” The New York Times March 21, 2024

Earlier this month, the National Low Income Housing Coalition came out with its annual report on the availability, or lack thereof, of affordable housing, The Gap 2024: A Shortage of Affordable Housing. “No state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing for the lowest-income renters”. According to NLIHC, the current shortage is more acute than it was prior to the pandemic. There are currently 7.1 million affordable homes for 11 million households. “Of those. 7.0 million rental units, 3.3 million are occupied by higher income households, leaving only 3.7 million rental homes that are both affordable and available for extremely low-income renters.”

According to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, “housing is unaffordable because wages have not kept up with rising rents. There is no county or state where a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford a modest apartment. At minimum wage, people have to work 86 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom. Even when people can afford a home, one is not always available. In 1970, the United States had a surplus of 300,000 affordable homes. Today, only 37 affordable homes are available for every 100 extremely low-income renters. As a result, 70% of the lowest-wage households spend more than half their income on rent, placing them at high risk of homelessness when unexpected expenses (such as car repairs and medical bills) arise.”

Wages are stagnant, rents increase. That contributes to the housing crisis. Almost half the affordable homes are occupied by higher income households. That also contributes to the housing crisis. But there’s more. Across the country, municipalities “fail”, or refuse, to create more affordable units: “No new affordable rental units were brought online in 2023, and no units were rehabilitated. Further, Des Moines failed to achieve, even in part, its goal of assisting 35 households facing homelessness with `rapid rehousing.’” Or take Millburn Township, a wealthy New Jersey suburb of New York City. Thanks to a landmark legal case years ago, New Jersey is ruled by the Mount Laurel legal doctrine which decrees that every town in the state has to make it possible to build lower-cost residences. Millburn Township decided it didn’t have to. So first it ignored repeated court decisions and then, more recently, it simply pulled out of a relatively modest affordable housing project. At present, Millburn Township has only 38 affordable homes. Refusal and failure, failure and refusal contribute to and intensify the affordable housing crisis.

A report issued today, suggests that for the next five years, renting will be 38% cheaper than buying. For the next five years, the pressure on the rental market to upscale, by raising rents and by remodeling for bigger units, will continue or increase. But what’s five years in a country in which people wait for federal housing vouchers for over a decade and then, when they’re “lucky” enough to finally catch one, landlords won’t accept them. Yes, that’s illegal. No, landlords don’t get punished. What’s five years in that context, in that nation?

Five years is half a decade. Again, over the past decade, millions of lower-cost, affordable and especially deeply affordable homes have disappeared. Many were allowed or even encouraged to “fall into disrepair”, encouraged by a market and society in which owners could make more profit by destroying their stock, often with the hopes of recouping the “loss” later through “redevelopment”. The rest were disappeared by rising and then skyrocketing rents. Millions of affordable and deeply affordable residences, homes, were disappeared, kidnapped, and working families across the United States were, have been, and are being held for ransom. What is justice in a nation that can countenance the destruction of millions of homes and the devastation of tens of millions of lives in such a short period of time?  Where once the alibi for forced removal of housing and populations was “blight”, today it’s just business as usual. Five years is half a decade, and, really, what’s a decade?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Amanda Williams, “Color(ed) Theory: Crown Royal Bag” / Smithsonian)

When landlords argue that Just Eviction protections are a form of slavery

“In America, it was the slaveholders who got restitution, not the people whose lives and wages were stolen from them for twelve generations.”

                                                        Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Disconents

Recently, the Connecticut legislature debated, yet again, a bill to establish no fault eviction protections, this time for residents of mobile manufactured home parks. In an exchange between a tenants’ rights advocate and a Senator, who is also a landlord, the Senator suggested that preventing no fault evictions is akin to slavery, because it is “taking the labor of others against their will.” The Senator went on to say “this [no fault eviction protection] is the same thing” as slavery, which apparently is no more than exploitation of labor power. Nothing about people owning people, nothing about people turning other human beings into beings less than human, nothing about extraordinary cruelty and violence. Just a violation of property rights. This is the same thing.

This Senator, in Connecticut, echoed the sentiments of an attorney,  in California, who specializes in residential and commercial eviction of tenants. In a discussion of eviction controls, in Los Angeles, the attorney noted, “In the City of Los Angeles, regardless of the status of the property, there is a prohibition against no fault eviction … which is a little bit of state imposed slavery.” The attorney then goes on to explain that the owner who wants to go out of business, simply wants to close down, can’t, because of the prohibition, and that’s slavery, “forced labor”. Again, from sea to shining sea, the reduction of slavery to theft of labor is a trope for those who argue against any abridgement of their “property rights”, which have magically been transformed into labor rights. A specter haunts the United States, and that spectre is … the landlord.

The comment in California was made in 2022. The comment in Connecticut was made in 2024. What is to be made of the use, and abuse, of slavery in these, and I’m sure other, instances? On one hand, it speaks to the unspeakable that is regularly spoken among Whites Only gatherings, even if not everyone in the room is White. That is, it’s ok to say that any abridgement of one’s power is a form of slavery because, really, slavery wasn’t all that bad. It wasn’t torture, murder, sexual violence and more. It was only taking a bit more than one should have, and really, that’s the worker’s fault, isn’t it? If they were more cunning, better equipped for the “real world”, more … well … more like “us”, they wouldn’t have been made to suffer.

But it speaks as well to the difficulties of developing equitable and just housing policies in a country where slavery founded all notions of “right to property” and hence of both right and property: “Slavery cannot be dismissed as an unfortunate flaw in an otherwise perfect cloth. It would be closer to the truth to say that slavery provided the fabric out of which the cloth was made.” Yes, there is a housing shortage, yes, mortgage rates are higher and there are other elements contributing to the precariousness of renters’ lives. But at heart, a fundamental issue is the power landlords arrogate unto themselves in the name of history, in the name even of ethics and all that is good and right in the world, that is, in the name of property.  So, the next time someone in power explains what slavery really was, pay close attention.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Kara Walker, Grub for Sharks: A Concession to the Negro Populace / Tate Museum)

The Gold Formed in Supernovas

The Gold Formed in Supernovas

Out of the Supernovas
Where we
And all the gold were formed
We fell nightmarishly into a world of dreaming

From the crowns of our mother’s heads
Into swelling hopeful wombs

We plummeted

Mothers, you did not come from a rib

And, we definitely fell from your celestial wombs
Skies under the sky

The Twice Born
Born from two sacred furnaces

This is for every woman who has ever held a child’s hand
Until it was strong enough to walk

And, for every woman
Who has ever had to have her hand held
When choosing
Not to bring a child into this world

O-o-h child things are gonna get easier
O-o-h child things will be brighter

We waited until it was our turn to play

I came to earth to reclaim my Stetson hat
A cosmic Staggerlee

To hang on to this world as it spins around
And to not let the spinning get me down

The stars are both my cradle and my cenotaph

And in this līlla where our dreams collide
Spending lifetimes running from all the reasons
We came here in the first place

Running from each other

Why not build a world
A stronger world
A strong though loving world
To dream in?

Cowardly dreamers

Often our dreams dare not speak their names
Falling out of the strangeness and the charm
Like purposeful precipitation

We are the faces of our mother’s and our father’s
Agony and ecstasy.

We are the chain reaction

We are atomic shadows
Tattooing the ruins and the wreckage
Of yesterday’s dreaming
The wreckage we must stoop to rebuild
With our broken tools
And burned hands

We are the quantum miracles
That force the gods to come to earth
To intervene on our behalf

And a mother to offer us her milk filled breast

This Song of Experience and human abstract
Living in the concreteness
Where the mundane and divine clash

Our Ideas can’t be killed
Only their containers smashed
And their advent delayed

Rebuild the Tower of Babel
Five Stairsteps
Earth
Water
Fire
Air
And space

Build it high enough to shout at god
And to say:
Your confounding of our languages
Has never stopped us from writing a poem
Or a song
Or a prayer
Or even attempting to be reasonable with each other

We are many
нас багато
[nas bahato]

Thousands chanted this in Russia
At Aleksei Navalny’s funeral
Where it was illegal to be

And they aren’t covering their faces, either.

This is for Lulia and Daria Navalny
Who have vowed to carry his dream
And for all of the hope that Putin can never kill

Ideas can’t be killed
Only their containers smashed
And their advent delayed

This is for the sacrifices of
Myrlie and Medger Evers
Bayard Rustin
Mamie Till- Mobley and Emmitt Till
And the open casket that forced America to gaze into an abyss
That was also gazing

And for the patience
Of John Lewis
And all of the people
Who still continue to cross the Edmond Pettits Bridge annually

Even though it still continues to be named
After a Klansman

This is for the voice of Fannie Lou Hammer
Who told us
“Stay together children”

And the music of Martha Redbone
Who is a lover
And a Mother
And a sister, too

She is bold enough to ask god:
Why can’t we talk about it?

And for Donnie Hathaway who fell
And Roberta Flack who supported his sky
As long as she could

For Tammy Terrell who consorted with Marvin Gaye
Their words and music still work
And still matter

You are my loves
You are my heavens
You make me sing
La Dee Da

This is for all of the Women who
Like an Egyptian Goddess
Hold up the sky
Giving shelter to the earth

For the rage of Nadya Tolokonnikova,
Lead singer of Pussy Riot
And for Harvey Milk
And all of the us’s in the U.S.

And, for a bunch of other people, too
Who you won’t ever learn about in school
Because they are too diverse to be included
In orthodox versions of Ameri-can’t History.

Let our actions in the world
Build elegant lattice like ladders into afrofutures
In the likeness of the subatomic grid structures
Found in the gold formed in supernovas

 

(By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry)

(Image credit 1: Untitled, Firelei Báez / Smithsonian) (Image credit 2: Untitled, John Armleder / Museum of Modern Art)

In prisons in England and Wales, “evidence of the levels of distress of the women being held”

At the beginning of February, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons Charlie Taylor issued a report, “The long wait: A thematic review of delays in the transfer of mentally unwell prisoners”. It is predictably dismal and dismaying reading, dismaying not only because of its gruesome details and insights but also because of its lack of surprise. There is no surprise that the prisons of England and Wales are the furthest possible distance from any sense of justice. There is likewise no surprise that the most vulnerable, the ones most in need of assistance and more, are the least served, or, perhaps, the most served with a kind of violence and misery. Here’s the core of the most current report: “Only 15% of patients in our sample were transferred within 28 days and waiting times for a bed were too long. The average wait was 85 days from the point it was identified that their mental health needs could not be treated in prison, with a range of three to 462 days.” By law, anyone deemed in need of mental health care must be, not should be must be, transferred to mental health hospitals within 28 days. In this scenario of lack of, or refusal of, care, where are the women? Again predictably, everywhere and under the greatest threat.

Much of the report involves “men and women”, as in “Our prisons continue to hold a number of very seriously mentally unwell men and women”. But there are moments in which women are at the center of the findings: “I will always remember the deep shock of walking into a unit in Eastwood Park, where acutely mentally unwell women were being held in appalling conditions with bloodstains on the floor and scratch marks on the walls; evidence of the levels of distress of the women being held there …. At Low Newton women’s prison in Durham the screams from the inpatient unit where the most mentally unwell women were held were so distressing that other prisoners told us they were put off going for their medical appointments.”

“I will always remember”. The irony is that, while Charlie Taylor may always remember, the “care” for women who are incarcerated is marked by amnesia and silence. Consider the twelve months prior to the report’s release, and this will be at best a grossly minimal account.

In March, the Independent Monitoring Board issued its Annual Report of the Independent Monitoring Board at HMP/YOI Eastwood Park: “Whilst efforts have been made to reduce levels of self-harm the high number of women being imprisoned with severe mental health issues has been compounded by the impact of lockdown. Eastwood Park is currently considered nationally as a prison of concern.” Repeatedly, the report emphasizes that the prison is now housing an “unprecedented number of mentally unwell and vulnerable women, as well as women with complex needs.” The result is, predictably, “exceptionally high levels of self-harm.” Eastwood Park is currently considered nationally as a prison of concern. Is it? By whom? By the way, this report was widely reported.

On July 27, 2023, the UK Ministry of Justice released Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales: Deaths in Prison Custody to June 2023 Assaults and Self-harm to March 2023: “There were 59,722 self-harm incidents in the 12 months to March 2023, up 11% from the previous 12 months, comprising of a 1% decrease in male establishments and a 52% increase in female establishments. Over the same period, the rate of self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners, which takes account of the increase in the prison population between this and the previous year, decreased 5% in male establishments but increased 51% in female establishments …. There were 59,722 self-harm incidents in the 12 months to March 2023, up 11% from the previous 12 months, comprising of a 1% decrease in male establishments and a 52% increase in female establishments … In male establishments, self-harm incidents decreased 1% and assault incidents increased 11%. In female establishments, both self-harm and assault incidents increased, by 52% and 16% respectively … The rate [of self-harm] in female establishments has increased considerably by 51% to a new peak (5,826 per 1,000 prisoners), whereas it has decreased 5% in male establishments (523 per 1,000 prisoners), meaning the rate is now more than eleven times higher in female establishments.” These dismal numbers were widely reported.

In the next Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody Statistics report, the investigators found, “The rate of self-harm incidents per 1,000 prisoners, which takes account of the increase in the prison population between this and the previous year, increased 3% in male establishments and increased 63% in female establishments.” This too was widely reported.

On November 23, 2023, the National Health Service England released its long awaited report, A review of health and social care in women’s prisons. The report, which received widespread attention, stated, “Women in prison have disproportionately higher levels of health and social care needs than their male counterparts in prison and women in the general population. High numbers of women in prison experience poor physical and mental health and many are living with trauma. Findings from this Review further highlight the vulnerability and adverse life experiences of many women in prison. Mothers feel keenly the separation from their children that imprisonment brings, and women who are mentally unwell are still being sent to prison. None of this is new.” None of this is new.

Concerning mental health care, the report noted, “Acutely mentally ill women are still being sent to prison.  Prisons are ill equipped to provide the necessary treatment and care for acutely mentally ill women.  There is a gap in mental health services across the range of needs including primary mental healthcare and specialist interventions for women who have experienced trauma, including sexual and domestic violence.” This too was widely reported.

There were many more reports, both from the government and from various organizations and news agencies, but the point is made. None of this is new. Reports are only fine if they are read and acted upon. Otherwise, they are worse than empty gestures. They are part of the machinery that is pulverizing women –  vulnerable women, women of color, working class women, women living with mental health issues, women living with disabilities, pregnant women, women who are mothers, women – into dust. The women’s prisons are filled with dust. It is a matter of concern. We will never forget … will we?

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: NHS England)

Tenants who were threatened with eviction experienced excess mortality that was ten times higher than that of the general population

A new study came out this week that demonstrated that “tenants who were threatened with eviction experienced excess mortality that was ten times higher than that of the general population … People who faced an eviction filing during the pandemic died at over twice the rate that was normal prior to the pandemic.” While the majority of those facing eviction predictably lived in low-income communities, and more often than not communities of color, those who were threatened with eviction had a much higher mortality rate than their immediate neighbors who did not face eviction. We know, or we think we know, that eviction is an existential crisis. This study demonstrates that eviction filing, facing eviction, whether or not one is ultimately thrown to the streets, is itself an existential crisis. For many, an eviction filing like an eviction is a death sentence.

Where are the women in this toxic scenario? Everywhere, women are the very fiber of the story, of the situation. “The median age of the threatened renters was 36 years, 62.5% were women, 57.6% were Black, and their median annual household income was $38,000, with 25.9% living below the poverty line.” For Black women the arithmetic is particularly telling and lethal. While Black women make up 11.5% of renters considered, they comprised 38.7% of those who faced eviction filings, the highest proportion of any group. The study considered the first two years of the pandemic. During that period, according to the study’s authors, “if we had eliminated eviction filings altogether, more than 8,000 lives could have been saved.” What exactly is the value of a human life in the current housing market?

While, at some level, none of this is surprising, given the intersection of gender, race/ethne, class in the general eviction story, it bears emphasizing that the “mere act” of being threatened with eviction is tantamount to a death sentence. When you hear or read of the “eviction epidemic”, remember that that’s not a figure of speech. Evictions kill, eviction filings kill.  Across the country, we see spikes in both eviction filings and evictions. Those are part of a national, and global, war on women, and in particular on low- to moderate-income women of color. Decent and secure housing is, or should be, a right. Safe and stable housing is life itself.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Images credit: Ariana Torrey / USA Today)

At Play Amidst the Strangeness and the Charm: for Black “Mystery” Month 2024

At Play Amidst the Strangeness and the Charm: for Black “Mystery” Month 2024

Is there a 30,000 foot view
Above the burning and banned books
The global rise of Nationalisms
And the desire for new Green Books
For Black, Brown, Purple, and Rainbow people?

Above the Operation Wet Back interment camps
And gated country
With gated communities
And gerrymandered voting districts
Where guns speak louder than people
And Headdresses, fezes, or yarmulkes
Are tantamount to wearing targets
And, a pregnant woman has no choice?

Is there a place where our greatest thoughts and Ideals have gone
At play amidst the strangeness and the charm?
A  Black Mystery poem
For Black “Mystery” month
Because suddenly it’s becoming forbidden to be taught about ourselves

As if words hurled at eternity
Can be made to disappear into Black Holes
To be forgotten and spaghettified
Passing the event horizons of cosmic shredders.

May we, Ray Bradbury-like, become the books they burn
Before 2024 becomes 1984
And we all die because of 451 degrees of separation
The resulting carbon emissions hastening global warming.

 

(By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry)

(Image credit 1: Léon Ferrari: ‘Justice’ by Rogelio Irurtia + ‘The Seven Apocalyptical Trumpets’ by Dürer” / Tate)

(Image credit 2: Gabor Peterdi: Apocalypse / Smithsonian American Art Museum)

No-fault evictions and the persistence of feudalism in housing

Sunday morning, February 11, the United Kingdom’s so-called housing minister Michael Gove appeared on BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg’s Sunday morning politics show, and he did not fail to politick. When asked about the housing situation and in particular the Tory government’s four-year failure to pass its Renters (Reform) Bill which would ban no-fault evictions, the minister “promised” to end no-fault evictions by the time the next general elections roll around, sometime at the end of this year or the beginning of next. Whether these are hollow promises or not, and they are, is an issue many are discussing. Why it is so difficult to end no-fault evictions, and not only in the United Kingdom, is another, equally sordid issue. The reason, to cut to the chase, no-fault evictions persist is that renters today just as renters two hundred years ago find themselves firmly embedded in contemporary feudalism.

But first, a quick summary of the sad history of not addressing no-fault evictions. In 2019, the Conservative Party’s manifesto promised to end Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, which codified the right, and power, of landlords to evict tenants “without having to establish fault on the part of the tenant”. In April 2019, the government announced “plans to consult on new legislation to abolish Section 21 evictions – so called ‘no-fault’ evictions”.  That consultation went from April 2019 to October 2019. The resulting consultation paper proposed abolishing Section 21. That was over four years ago. What happened? A great deal and absolutely nothing.

Formally, nothing happened until June 2022, when the government issued a White Paper, “A fairer private rented sector”, which offered a 12-point action plan. The third action, in its entirety, reads: “We will deliver our manifesto commitment to abolish Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and deliver a simpler, more secure tenancy structure. A tenancy will only end if the tenant ends it or if the landlord has a valid ground for possession, empowering tenants to challenge poor practice and reducing costs associated with unexpected moves.” That was June 2022. The Queens Speech 2022 stated that a Renters Reform Bill would be introduced in the 2022 – 2023 session of Parliament. It wasn’t. So where is Section 21 today?

On one hand, a bill was finally introduced. The discussion of the bill has been delayed, again, until at least March. On the other, more dire hand, 2023 saw a 50% increase over 2022 in no-fault evictions, the highest number of no-fault evictions since 2016. Since the government first announced it would ban no-fault evictions, 26,000 households, 26,000 families, have suffered no-fault evictions. Landlords can smell something going on and are acting “accordingly”.

While one in five Conservative MPs are landlords, even if that were not the case, the Renters (Reform) Bill would have a tough road. Landlords have argued, apparently persuasively, that giving tenants “just cause” protection would harm the rental market. While there’s no evidence of that, and while this bill doesn’t go nearly far enough, one can see in the formulation an image of what that market actually is. A place where only the landlord exists. Paid your rent, month in month out, for years, maybe even decades? If you had the temerity to complain about maintenance, you’re out. If you had the gall to complain about exorbitant rent hikes or management harassment, you’re out. If something has changed the general broader neighborhood and people with more money are beginning to consider renting there, you’re out. Period. The years you’ve invested in maintaining the property count for less than nothing, less than nothing because now you have the Scarlet Letter E. Good luck finding a place to live.

This scenario is playing out around the world. 4% of evictions in Canada are no-fault evictions. In British Columbia, the epicenter of evictions in Canada, 85% of evictions were no-fault evictions, compared to 65% nationally. How do landlords explain this “epidemic” of no-fault evictions? They say the rules are too strict. Tenant advocates point out that the rules and punishments are actually among the easiest in Canada. Similarly, Australia is suffering a rise in no-fault evictions.

Across the United States, no-fault evictions are on the rise as well. In Connecticut, where evictions have risen steadily, no-fault evictions used to make up 9% of evictions annually. Now they comprise 11%. In April, California will once again ban no-fault evictions. In 2019, California passed “a landmark law” which prohibited no-fault evictions, with three exceptions: the landlord moving into the units, making repairs, or taking the units off the rental market. Guess what happened? In Santa Clara County a landlord evicted tenants, claiming relatives had to move. Magically, soon after, the apartments were re-listed at nearly double the price. Under the new law, landlords moving into their units or renting to family will have to identify the people moving in. They will have to move in within three months of eviction, and they will have to live in the unit for at least a year. Those who evict tenants to renovate properties, so called renovictions, will have to provide copies of permits or contracts when serving eviction notices. If landlords do not comply, they will have to allow evicted tenants to return under the original lease terms. Finally, the new law authorizes the attorney general, local government and renters to sue landlords for wrongful evictions and illegal rent increases.

From the United Kingdom to Canada to Australia to the United States and beyond, the elimination of no-fault evictions is an ongoing struggle. Powerful landlord groups are fierce in their opposition. Even when laws are passed, as happened in California, landlords find ways of exploiting what seemed like reasonable exceptions. Tenants often are uninformed about their rights and their power. And finally, often, as the new California law suggests, even when the eviction is wrongful, illegal, the tenant is left to pursue justice in civil court. Even though the landlord has actually broken the law, the State does not prosecute. Why does the State not pursue landlords who engage in wrongful eviction? Because in feudalism the bond between land and lord is sacred, and the tenants are not even shadows.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: The Guardian / Bill Bragg)