We criminalized and demonized relief for forty plus years: Of Eviction

The U.S. federal government released $45 billion for rent relief. What happened? On one hand, a great deal … for those lucky few who received the money. But they are the lucky and they are the few. Otherwise, the money has mostly sat in the proverbial vaults. Why? Many policy analysts, activists, advocates and just plain folk have looked at the situation and concluded that many, actually most, states and localities created impossibly cumbersome processes that tenants often found inscrutable, if they found the process at all, and landlords found, or claimed to find, too `burdensome’? While the analyses are informative and hopefully will help streamline programs, significant questions remain. Why did states and localities design such difficult processes for relief? If you were standing on the deck of a ship and saw someone drowning in the water, how many preconditions would you lay before throwing the person a lifeline?

First, as eviction researchers, anti-eviction activists and advocates, and anyone who’s ever been in an eviction proceeding concur, eviction processes in the United States have long been weighted heavily in favor of landlords. Typically, 90% of landlords show up with attorneys, while 10% or fewer of tenants have any legal representation. Then there are arcane processes no one really understands, except that they make it almost impossible for tenants to get anything like justice. For example, Nevada has something called summary eviction process in which a tenant receives a seven-day eviction notice for non-payment of rent. If the tenant doesn’t file an affidavit in court within seven days, the landlord receives automatic approval to evict the tenant. No summons, no complaint, no hearing. The tenant must sue in order to be sued to be evicted. If your head is spinning, call it property vertigo.

Many localities and even some states have passed or are considering right to counsel that would begin to readjust the imbalance and injustice. That would be an important step.

At the same time, questions remain. Are all situations of non-payment really the same? Is there any concern for those who suddenly lose their jobs, fall sick, live with someone who falls sick, and the list goes on? The answer, bluntly, is No. And that No is our national policy of relief.

Since 1980, every national government has demonized and criminalized those who need, and deserve, relief and assistance. From Welfare Queen to Ending Welfare as We Know It, the focus of the assault has been on Black and Brown women. What’s been good for the national goose has been even better for the state and local ganders. Funds for public services were cut, deeper and deeper, in successive decades, those who in any way relied on those funds were criminalized and demonized further and further.

And so here we are, in the second year of a pandemic with its consequent economic crisis, and we’re somehow shocked that states put security before relief. Why is self-attestation such a difficult point for states and localities? Because they fear fraud. Why do they fear fraud? Because those who seek help, who need help, are, by definition, demonic and criminal. Ignore the history of banks in creating the last recession. Too big to fail, too big to jail. Ignore the history of corporate landlords abusing eviction processes to harass tens of thousands of tenants. Ignore the recent history of corporate landlords `finding loopholes’ in the CDC moratorium to continue their practices of mass eviction. Focus instead on the possibility of fraud and create processes that are so difficult, so burdened with evidence, that really no one is meant to apply. And that qualifies as success, by the metrics of the last 40 some years.

This is not even about putting people first, although we should. A government and a country that cares about people at all would set up structures to help them immediately and then worry over the details later. $45 billion would go a long way, but instead it sits in the proverbial vault. If you are standing on the deck of a ship and see someone drowning in the water, do not delay, do not lay preconditions, throw the person a lifeline. Anything else is a crime.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Fresno Bee / SW Parra)

Facing eviction without a lawyer

Amoy Bailey broke her leg, missed work, fell behind in rent, ended up at Bronx Housing Court.

Housing insecurity in the United States has mushroomed in this coronavirus pandemic. Millions of Americans are at risk of becoming evicted. I know what that’s like. When I became physically disabled in a fluke car crash, could no longer work and fell behind in my rent, my New York City landlord quickly filed papers to have me evicted.

Unable to find a pro bono lawyer to represent me, I had to go it alone. Not unusual, unfortunately. Only 10% of tenants in housing court have legal counsel, while 90% of landlords do.

I did, however, learn I had two issues working in my favor. First, the landlord had failed to deliver my eviction papers according to protocol. Second, he had also refused to fix numerous housing code violations, e.g. brown tap water, ceiling holes and leaks. I filed the necessary court forms for both.

But I’ll tell you something. Actually being in the court room, not knowing up from down about its laws, regs, and loopholes when you’re fighting for your life and all you’ve accomplished, heightened anxiety renders you incapable of functioning at your best. Too often, I realize now, I was just following my nose instead of keeping these two critical issues in the forefront.

I arrived in the New York City courtroom alone, passed the all-important advocacy table in the entryway outside, and rushed to the court’s uniformed officer to be marked present. Since it wasn’t yet nine o’clock, I asked permission to speak with advocate. But when I got there, two women were already in line. Scared they’d call my name in the court room and I’d lose the case because I wasn’t there, I rushed back to the officer to ask if I still had time. “Go ahead,” he said, adding another word or two which I didn’t catch. Something by his tone and look conveyed not only power over me, control (which, of course, he had), but also condescension and a level of suspicion, as though I were trying to get one over on him.

When it was finally my turn, the advocate brought up stipulations of settlement, a binding agreement between landlord and tenant. She warned about the hallway stipulation or “hallway stip” in which the landlord’s lawyer takes the tenant away from the courtroom to settle the case. If I preferred to go before the judge instead, she said, I had that right.

Inside, the court attorney called my case. I approached her station, as did the landlord’s lawyer. Either she assumed I understood the procedure and my rights or was unconcerned that I didn’t because, right away, she instructed me to follow him out. Yeah. The dreaded hallway stip. She probably didn’t think I knew about that. I didn’t want to go, but didn’t feel I had a choice.

Out there, he was in charge. He tried various approaches to force my signature, pledging I would pay a monthly amount so indisputably beyond my current means that I would default the very first month. He knew I was out of my depth. He was banking on it. Yet I stood my ground each time until he gave up.

When the court attorney recalled our case, she urged me to have a “conference” – a threesome with her, the landlord’s lawyer, and me – an even more intimidating process since, together, they’d form a tag team. I refused this, too. I wanted the judge.

Finally the moment arrived. Standing up against the rich mahogany wall of the judge’s bench, I handed him documents I prepared detailing the improper delivery of eviction papers and the housing code violations. In answer to my question, he explained ways this could all play out. I couldn’t focus well enough to follow. I only remember his saying, “And then if that happens, you’ll be evicted.” With no breath of time after hearing that word “evicted,” all my repressed terror burst open. Tears flooded my eyes, streamed down my face and out of my nose, and I couldn’t stop. But there was something I really wanted him to know, so I met his eyes and mouthed the words, “I’ve never not paid my rent before.” His eyes conveyed empathy. That, I remember well.

He told me to sit down and compose myself. I crawled back to the pews, head down, sobbing. Lack of privacy intensified the demoralization in court, but that’s part of the whole process of falling from grace in the US. What has always been private becomes public. I have no memory of having stepped up to the judge’s bench again that day, though I may have.

Back with the court attorney, a surprise. She adjourned the case to give the landlord’s lawyer time to locate the process server who supposedly delivered my eviction notice. Now why wasn’t this brought up earlier? Before I was ordered out for the hallway stip? How could that be right? Were the judge to find that the papers had been improperly served, the eviction case against me would have been dismissed. The landlord would surely refile, but it would buy me that precious commodity: time. Time to heal, get back to work, catch up on rent.

The court attorney ordered me to return the following Thursday. I explained that I was scheduled for surgery on my spine on Thursday. She seemed not to believe me, as was her pattern. I didn’t trust her, didn’t like the way her eyes failed to meet mine in our exchanges. She saw no equal in me. She granted me an extension of only seven days. I knew that would never be enough time to recover, and in fact it wasn’t, but I hadn’t a shred of strength left in me to argue.

More court appearances followed. The landlord’s process server never showed up, the housing code violations were never addressed. In that calendar year, 44,572 NYC households were evicted by court order. One of them was mine.

(By Joy Ann Juvelis, Ph.D.)

(Photo Credit: City Limits / Adi Talwar)

(Joy Ann Juvelis PhD is a medical anthropologist whose research has explored barriers to health care for people living with HIV in poverty, homelessness, in jails and prisons, as well as for those being released from correctional facilities. @JAJuvelisPhD)

We must address the racist cruelty: Of eviction

Standing outside a Virginia courthouse, waiting for justice

“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”
Heather Heyer

The pandemic turned the economy upside down and inside out, or so we are told. We are also told, still, that `we are all in it together’. Welcome to the place where the theater of cruelty merges with the wretched of the earth, and, through the cataclysmic changes, the worst remains the same and absolutely ordinary. We are talking, once more, of eviction. Two reports appeared today, both focusing on Georgia. In one, we learn that, among African Americans, youth and housing insecurity are primary causes of “vaccine hesitancy”. In the other, we learn that, in the Atlanta metro area, evictions are concentrated in low income and Black, Indigenous, People of Color, BIPOC, neighborhoods. At one level, we learn that we have learned nothing, since, as both reports suggest, these patterns preceded the pandemic and have `simply’ continued. What are we to do with that `simplicity’, with the persistence of systemic racism in the real estate industry as in the courts? And what is to be done?

According to a study of “vaccine hesitancy” among African Americans in Georgia, “COVID-related housing insecurity—difficulty paying the rent or mortgage or even eviction—increased the odds of vaccine resistance sevenfold”. Actually, housing insecurity increased those odds by 7.3-fold. Why does housing insecurity increase those odds so dramatically? According to the report, those living with `housing insecurity’ tend to live in highly segregated neighborhoods, are low wage essential workers, and have little to no access to health care systems. They’re not `hesitant’, they’re excluded. For “highly segregated neighborhood”, read “ghetto”. For “low wage essential worker”, read “indebted servant” or, better, “serf”. Again, that’s not hesitation. That’s feudalism.

According to the second report, five counties make up 63% of the Atlanta metropolitan area population and 74% of its occupied rental units. During the pandemic, eviction filings continued, especially in “hotspots”, census tracts that were below 80% of the Area Median Income, or AMI, and were 50% or more Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. These hotspots were not a surprise to the researchers, since, prior to the pandemic, the same neighborhoods were eviction hotspots and the same patterns devastated those neighborhoods, communities, families and individuals. As the authors note at the outset of their report, “An eviction marks a crisis point of housing instability that ripples into nearly every facet of a person’s life and harms future chances of housing security …. With the added urgency of a global pandemic, the impacts of eviction mushroom and tighten the nexus between individual outcomes like an eviction and community-level harm.” In the Atlanta metro area, as across the United States, evictions are working as planned, condemning majority BIPOC communities, especially low- to moderate-income BIPOC communities, to a certain death sentence. None of this is new, even if its context makes it seem worse than before.

We “learn” this week that in Virginia, the Virginia that has improved on its shameful history of mass evictions, high eviction rates, and easy eviction procedures, in that Virginia, “Black women … are disproportionately evicted.” We “learn” this week that in New York, the New York that only recently started distributing any rent relief funds, Black women make up nearly two-thirds of those applying for rent relief. Again, that relief has only now started, barely, reaching people.

In light of the new CDC Eviction Moratorium, and the challenges to it which are currently being argued before the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court that barely kept the last CDC Eviction Moratorium going and, with a single vague sentence, tried to gut the New York State Eviction Moratorium, the Eviction Lab took a look at the first iteration of CDC Eviction Moratorium. Here’s what they found: “A large number of eviction cases originate from a relatively small number of Census tracts … Neighborhoods with high eviction filing rates prior to the pandemic continued to see the highest rates during the CDC moratorium … Neighborhoods with high eviction filing rates prior to the pandemic continued to see the highest rates during the CDC moratorium … Prior to the pandemic, Black renters received a disproportionate share of all eviction filings: they made up 22% of all renters in ETS sites, but received 35% of eviction filings. They continued to be over-represented during the CDC moratorium period, receiving 33% of filings.”

What they found is that we have learned absolutely nothing. Where is the outrage at the predictability of these findings? Around the country, activists are pushing, often with success, for right to counsel, where every tenant would have an attorney present and engaged, long before every going to court; Just Cause restrictions, which would require that landlords give just cause before not renewing a lease; sealing eviction records; mandatory mediation; and more. Those are all important policies. At the same time, we have a reckoning due. Where is the outrage at the loss of life, the devastation, the twenty first century version of feudalism? Why does it take a plague for people to begin paying attention to our neighbors, and have we actually begun paying attention, if, in the end, each study concludes that the present and the past are one and the same.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: ABC News / AP / Ben Finley)

We must address the spectacular, and spectacularly ordinary, cruelty: Of eviction

Cori Bush

“The Mafia is not an outsider in this world; it is perfectly at home. Indeed, in the integrated spectacle it stands as the model of all advanced commercial enterprises”
Guy Debord: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

At midnight Saturday, as July turned into August, the CDC moratorium on evictions ended. On Tuesday evening, the CDC announced a new set of protections from evictions for those living in communities suffering substantial to high incidences of Covid. This is a 60-day reprieve for which we all owe Representative Cori Bush more than a great deal of thanks. She lit a path out of the darkness, in more ways than one. Cori Bush taught us humanity matters, Black women matter, Brown women matter, Black and Brown children and communities matter, humanity matters. We need that lesson, desperately, as we slog, drenched, in a national theater of cruelty. Consider what happened between midnight, Saturday night, and Tuesday evening. Consider the spectacular, and spectacularly ordinarily cruelty, that greeted and awaited the most vulnerable among us.

St. Louis already had 126 eviction orders pending, and more promised, lots more. In response, St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts announced that he would triple his eviction crew. Sheriff Betts hoped to conduct as many as 30 evictions per day, starting August 9. He explained, “Right off the bat we want to clean up that 126 evictions.” Removing people from their homes in the middle of a pandemic has become an act of cleaning up, if not cleansing.

In New Orleans, located in the epicenter of the current Delta variant crisis, Constable Edwin M. Shorty Jr. issued an order. In order to facilitate the anticipated heavy eviction workload, all full-time and reserve deputies had to be vaccinated by August 16. On Monday, New Orleans’ busiest housing court 58 eviction filings, up from the pandemic moratorium average of one a day. The headline more or less says it all: “New Orleans landlords take advantage of eviction moratorium’s end, file to eject dozens”.

Lest anyone feel geographically smug, on Monday landlords rushed to file evictions in Rhode Island, Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida. In Idaho, where judges had never recognized the moratorium, it was eviction business as usual. In Connecticut, eviction orders spiked: “Before the federal order was reinstated Wednesday, judges in Connecticut signed a surge of orders that allow state marshals to remove tenants and their belongings from their homes….The 154 families that judges gave the nod to be evicted Monday and Tuesday is double the number of evictions that were being granted in recent weeks. It also mirrors pre-pandemic eviction levels.” Look in that mirror, do not look away. In Delaware, “new eviction filings … spiked to a level not seen since March 2020.” Is this the much heralded return to normal? In Pittsburgh, “on Monday, a day after the federal eviction moratorium ended, court filings to evict people increased 420%.” In Harris County, Texas, there have been 254 eviction filings, between Monday and Thursday of this week. What eviction moratorium? What tenant protections? Where? Not here. Not wherever you’re sitting right now, reading this.

In Georgia, on Friday, July 30, hours before the CDC moratorium would end, faced with 145 writs of eviction and 1650 writs pending, DeKalb Chief Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson signed a new emergency order creating a ban on evictions throughout the county for another 60 days. In her order, Judge Jackson noted, “Without an eviction moratorium, many DeKalb County residents face imminent dispossession of their residences due to widespread arrearages owed to landlords. It is estimated that DeKalb County tenants owe approximately $50,000,000.00 in rent arrearage to landlords. Many of the landlords owed will be legally entitled to proceed with dispossessory actions once the eviction moratorium is lifted. Evictions can have long-lasting consequences for families and individuals, potentially disrupting school and education, worsening health, displacing neighborhood networks of support, and making it more difficult to find safe, affordable housing in the future. Perhaps most importantly, a lack of stable housing directly increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.”

Some people prepared by increasing their eviction crews, others by telling them to `man up’ and take the jab, others by pushing paper as quickly as they could. Other people, like Cori Bush and Asha Jackson, looked at the need, despair, pain, suffering, fear, terror, destruction, they looked at the human tragedy unfolding and they said NO to the inevitability of power, NO to the Mafia model governance, and YES to humanity. Which side are you on?

DeKalb Chief Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: Matt McClain/The Washington Post) (Photo Credit 2: Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

We must address the cruelty: Of eviction

At midnight last night, the CDC moratorium on evictions ended. Despite the Delta variant of Covid raging through the country, and the certainty that eviction increases the incidence of Covid. Despite billions of dollars in rent relief sitting idly, criminally, in state coffers, frozen because no one could figure out that for people in distress to have to go through intricate application processes would be both inhuman and futile. Despite the knowledge that the first to suffer, and the ones to suffer most deeply and for the longest period, will be children, especially children of color, children in low to moderate income households. Children. Despite the knowledge that single mothers, which means children, will be the ones to suffer. Despite months of mounting debts, of mounting certainty of imminent eviction once the moratorium ends, despite months of stasis, now, at whatever follows the eleventh hour, now the agencies are `scrambling’. Where were they, where was everyone, for the past six months? We must address the cruelty of this moment. We must address the cruelty of eviction.

Over $40 billion has been allocated for rent relief. That money has been sent to state and local governments, who were supposed to pass it on. Most haven’t. As of now, $3 billion has been distributed. State and local governments `explain’ that there was so much to do, so much money, so many applicants, so much staffing, so much so muchness. Many state and local governments didn’t open their application processes until June. They knew when the moratorium was set to end. State and local government after state and local government now `urges’ and `encourages’ tenants and landlords to apply. Even though, as in Louisiana, of 24,000 tenants who already applied, only 3,000 have been approved. That’s 24,000 households, of which 3,000 have been approved. Those 3,000 don’t necessarily have checks in hand, but they do have approval. For the others, the line has gone dead. And for the other others, the ones who waited to apply or didn’t know, the sky has fallen, as the hospitals in Louisiana fill to overflowing. 

This was all decreed decades ago, with the decision to finance everything with real estate taxes, giving corporate landlords complete and total dominion. They used eviction filings as a routine means of threatening tenants. They continued to do so during the moratorium, and with impunity. Only now, Congress is just beginning to investigate major corporate landlords who routinely  violated the moratorium as well as the rights and lives of thousands of people across the United States.

And what about the children? Children will be the first and last to suffer, and by all accounts, we just don’t care. Or worse. We take pleasure in the suffering of children, other people’s children. In July, Spain extended its eviction moratorium until the end of October. Specifically, Spain extended its eviction for vulnerable people, including children, minors, dependents, and survivors of sexual violence. Spain has also provided additional support, financial and otherwise, to those who have suffered economic distress due to and during the pandemic. Why does Spain cherish its children more than the United States?

Cruelty occurs when people commit violence because they’re indifferent to the pain of others or they take pleasure in inflicting pain on others. The cruelty of eviction addresses our system of disposable populations, whole Black and Brown neighborhoods and communities, all trying to make it through another day, all told, “Too bad. We tried. The check is in the mail, but you won’t get it. So sorry.” The eviction moratorium ended last night at midnight. The check is in the mail. 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: The New York Times / Sally Ryan)

Why do landlords have so much discretionary, and ultimately fatal, power?

Yesterday, Virginia’s Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne informed the Virginia House of Delegates’ Appropriations Committee that the Commonwealth of Virginia is looking at a $2 billion surplus. The Virginia state legislature will meet in special session, starting August 2, to decide how to divide the Covid relief moneys. No matter what they decide, $2 billion is a lot of money. And yet … and yet people concerned about eviction are worried, very worried. Why? Partly because the money in Virginia, as elsewhere, has moved at a snail’s pace. The process of application is cumbersome and, for many, almost impossible. The scale of demand has far exceeded the capacity of state agencies. But there’s something else, something more structural than agency capacity and poorly designed procedures: landlords’ discretionary power. 

Virginia has more than a billion dollars in aid for people behind on rent”. Again, that’s a lot of money, and, again, people who need that money and their allies, communities and networks are worried. Why? “To tap into $1 billion worth of federal aid earmarked for Virginia, tenants or their landlords must proactively apply, and there’s no longer any rules requiring property owners to cooperate.”

Fairfax County, in northern Virginia, is the second richest county in the United States, a close to its neighbor, Loudoun County. Despite its great wealth, and despite the fact that it has access to great sums of rent relief money, Fairfax County officials and advocates are worried about eviction. Why? “Although Fairfax officials and other stakeholders say there’s plenty of emergency rental assistance to help low-income residents, they are concerned that it’s taking too long to get that money to landlords. County officials said that even if the rental assistance is available, landlords may decide it’s not worth it to wait months to receive the overdue rent and may evict their tenants anyway.”

Landlords may decide it’s not worth it to wait months to receive the overdue rent and may evict their tenants anyway.

Despite all the research and all the public discussion of the intimate link between transmission of the pandemic and eviction, between health and housing more generally, landlords still get to decide whose life is `worth it’ and whose life is not worth it. Do not ask what it is … 

Across the country, local jurisdictions are responding to this injustice. Some are instituting “just cause” eviction restrictions, others are going with right to counsel. Philadelphia, today, approved legislation to restrict landlords’ decision-making process. From now, landlords will not be able to deny potential tenants just because they have low credit scores or past evictions or evictions filings. The landlords’ process will have to be transparent and rational. Housing is not only a right, it’s also a matter of life and death, and that matter is passed down from one generation to the next. 

How did landlords become the arbiters of life and death, in the midst of a pandemic … or ever? Where does landlords’ discretionary power come from? And why and h ow did we let this happen? On one hand, the answer is in decades of real estate driven urban economies, that reward White homeowners and punish Black and Brown renters, creating an ever wider racial wealth gap, that is also a death gap. Some live long, others are “not worth it”, and the necropolitical maps of `urban development’ proceed. At its source, the concept of landlord is the power of a lord, “the male head of a household; a man who has authority over servants, attendants, or slaves.” It’s time to rewrite the terms and change the power. Our lives are worth it.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: NBC Washington)

The eviction rate is too damn high everywhere … especially in Alexandria, Virginia!

Remember the rent is too damn high? It was, and it still is, in many areas actually getting much worse. You know what else is too damn high? Rates of eviction. Numbers of eviction are too damn high, and rates of eviction are too damn high. Take Alexandria, Virginia, nestled in the leafier part of what is known as the DMV, DC – Maryland – Virginia. 

According to the most recent report from the Eviction Lab, at Princeton University, in the 5 states and 27 cities the Lab tracks, last week, landlords filed for 5,460 evictions. That’s up from 4,937 in the previous weekly report, and the numbers have been rising lately.

In Virginia, according to the most recent Quarterly Report from the RVA Eviction Lab, directed by Kathryn Howell at Virginia Commonwealth University, even though eviction filings and judgements have been down these past three months (and the year prior), primarily thanks to federal and Commonwealth moratoria, there are still “high levels of housing instability and eviction pressures”, especially, and predictably, in Black and Brown neighborhoods, also most devastatingly hit by the pandemic. Who is particularly targeted by evictions, nationally, in Virginia, prior to the pandemic, during the pandemic? Women of color.

While the report notes that, of the northern Virginia jurisdictions, Fairfax County ranks fifth in eviction filings and eighth in judgments, there’s another tale of numbers in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County’s population is 1,146,000; Arlington County’s Population is 236,842; Alexandria’s population is 157,613.  In the first quarter of 2021, Alexandria had 129 filings and 35 evictions; Arlington had 73 filings and 31 evictions; Fairfax County had 288 filings and 84 evictions. 

Relative to its population, Alexandria’s rate of eviction filing is four times that of Fairfax County, and almost three times that of Arlington County. Why? Residents of Alexandria, ask your City Council, why is the rate of eviction in our city so damn high? The rent is too damn high. The rate of eviction is too damn high. 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: New York Times / Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Covid Operations: The laws be damned, evictions continue. Stop them now!

On Tuesday, April 14, Alexandria City Councilmember Canek Aguirre introduced a resolution to the City Council to freeze rents, mortgages and negative credit reporting: “No resident who has lost income should be required to pay rent during this public health emergency, nor should they accumulate debt for unpaid rent.” The City Council unanimously approved the resolution. Across the United States and around the world, the good news is that governments at all levels are enacting bills that freeze rents and mortgage payments as well as banning evictions. The bad news is that eviction notices are still going out and, even worse, evictions are still ongoing, in the very places where they have been banned. We have to talk about evictions and try to understand what’s going on.

First, the good news, from the past week or so. On Tuesday, in California, the San Jose City Council voted to extend a local moratorium on residential evictions until May 31, along with other renter protections. (Earlier in the month, California’s state legislature passed an eviction freeze that will last until 90 days after California’s state of emergency is lifted. While that in itself would be good news, better is that the legislature’s action took an earlier moratorium, by the Governor, and gave it sharper teeth and more muscle.) On Thursday, Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington, expanded and extended Washington’s eviction moratorium, and added additional protections. In Massachusetts, on Friday, the state legislature passed legislation that would ban evictions and foreclosures, and sent that on to the Governor to signOn Friday, David Ige, Governor of Hawaii, declared a moratorium on evictions; and Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan, extended Michigan’s eviction moratorium until May 15

 In India, on Friday, the Indian state of Maharashtra “asked landlords to postpone rent recovery from tenants for at least three months … [and] not to drive tenants out of their homes if they fail to pay rents during the current period.” On Monday, the South African government reiterated the national suspension of evictions during the national lockdown. Finally, in the United States, that national government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, aka the CARES Act, which precludes being served with an eviction until July 25, 2020, along with a few other protections. With all these bans and moratoria, everything should be fine, right? Wrong.

On Thursday, Pro Publica reported that in at least four states – Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and Florida – landlords continued to file eviction notices, despite the national ban, and suffered no negative consequences. What’s that you say about ignorance of the law being no excuse? Not when it comes to evictions, apparently. In California, in violation of both federal and even stronger state laws, landlords are threatening to evict and are evicting tenants. While both are illegal, actually evicting tenants means local law enforcement actually arrive at the residences and forcibly remove tenants. In Michigan, a landlord sent seven-day eviction notices to 80 tenants and explained that he had to, so as to “fulfill fiduciary responsibilities” to lenders. The law of lenders supersedes the law of both Michigan and the United States. The same story in LouisianaArizonaMissouri. Despite local and national legislation, across the United States, people are being evicted.

Likewise, in South Africa, despite a national moratorium on evictions, local jurisdictions have sent in police and special forces, colloquially know as Red Ants. to evict residents, most egregiously perhaps in Durban and Cape Town where they entered informal settlements, destroyed shacks, and `removed’ entire populations. Why does that sound familiar?

What is the investment in evictions? There’s the financial investment, but there’s more. In this period where staying at home, whatever that home looks like, can mean staying alive, what `inspires’ police and their avatars, who are just people like you and me, to render individuals, families, communities homeless, to turn fellow human beings into raw material for the global manufacturing of death and destruction? While the excuses and explanations are manifold and easily available, they all fall short when you put them face-to-face with the people who actually do the deed. What is our investment in evictions that, despite everything we know and think we know and feel and think we feel, we let them go on, a little dissipated in volume and velocity, perhaps, but as lethal as ever? 

(Credit for Everett Shinn, Eviction (Lower East Side): Smithsonian American Art Museum)

We need Dayamani Barla

Dayamani Barla is back in jail, and the State won’t say why.

Dayamani Barla lives in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkand, in India. There she runs a small tea shop. That is not why she’s in jail. That is not why the State `released’ her on bail, only to put her back in jail immediately. It’s not tea that has placed Dayamani Barla in a  revolving door of jail – jail – jail, always accompanied by thunderous State silence.

Dayamani Barla is a journalist, according to some the first Tribal journalist from Jharkand. She is a women’s activist, tribal activist, and anti-displacement activist. She’s a popular leader who has refused to be intimidated by either multinational corporations or by the State. She has been described as “Iron Lady” and as “a woman with a steely resolve.”

Actually, she’s not made of steel or iron, but rather of flesh and bone and commitment and action and vision. Transformation and liberation come from ordinary people engaged in ordinary practices. Real change is and must be ordinary.

Dayamani Barla organizes, teaches, and writes in the realm of the ordinary. In 2008, she famously opposed construction of an Arcelor-Mittal plant in Jharkhand. Between 2005 and 2008, the State of Jharkhand signed 112 memoranda of understanding with multinationals. Development was booming … at the expense of those who lived on, nurtured and cherished the land. Dayamani Barla opposed the displacement of those who take care of the land, and of the Earth.

The Arcelor-Mittal plant would have involved 12,000 acres and would have displaced over 70,000 people from some 45 villages. For those people, land is not an asset. It is heritage. Ironically, officially at least, the Indian government agrees. This land is protected, and so cannot be sold for non-agricultural use. And yet, repeatedly, it is.

Dayamani Barla listened to her neighbors and helped them organize. Her neighbors understood the essential truth of displacement. Once displaced, you never return: “We will not allow the Arcelor Mittal Company to enter into the villages because one can not be rehabilitated if once displaced. The lands, which we cultivate belong to our ancestors therefore we will not leave it”.

The “simple” folk of rural Jharkand already knew what the International Red Cross and Red Crescent would only `discover’ four long years later. As the World Disaster Report stated, last week: “Development is a major, but often ignored, driver of forced displacement.” And where’s a hotspot for development-driven displacement? India. The poor of India `bear the brunt’ of development, making up one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons anywhere … ever. And, as is so often the case, there is actually little data concerning those displaced through development. This is ironic given that, unlike all the other drivers of displacement, such as natural disasters and conflict, development is always planned. And yet … the data is `surprisingly’ missing.

But the cost of development to the poor has not been ignored by the poor, by the marginalized. Dayamani Barla has not been surprised by the lack of information, by the ignorance. Neither the State nor the multinational corporations nor the un-civil society made up of journalists, academics, ngo’s and so on, know how to or care to listen to the people actually on the ground.

Since 2010, Dayamani Barla has led a movement to stop government acquisition of farmers’ land for three schools, one of management, one of information technology, and one a law school. Villagers have gone on hunger strikes. Others mobilize. They are not opposed to `knowledge’ or to schools being built. They want consultation. They want a say as to which plot, or plots, of hundreds of acres will be used. They want an end to military occupation. And they want answers. For example, they want to know who decided that Jharkhand needs a knowledge triangle of technology-management-law, rather than, say, basic healthcare or primary education?

Many answer, What Jharkand needs is Dayamani Barla. The Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar agrees. In a recent poem he asks: “Why do we need Dayamani Barla?” Here’s the beginning of his answer:

“It is a grave danger now to be Dayamani Barla
It is a danger to be an adivasi
It is a danger now to reside in the village

There is land in the village
There are trees in the village
There are rivers in the village
There are minerals in the village
There are people in the village
There is also Dayamani Barla in the village”

There is also Dayamani Barla in the village. We need Dayamani Barla, and not just in the village. We need her in the world. We need her writing. We need her organizing. We need her reminding us that women are the shakers as well as the bakers of revolutionary action and praxis: “The participation of the adivasi women in our struggles has been more than that of men. They are more vociferous as they have to bear the major brunt of the economic and cultural destabilization. Adivasi women in the villages facing the threat of displacement … have clamped a people’s curfew. They equally participate with men in blocking any project-related vehicles, machinery or personnel inside their villages. Women ploughed up the roads and sowed seeds. Volunteers stood as watch guards to see that no one tramples upon their sown fields. Organizations involved in the struggle cannot take any decisions or make any settlements without consulting women’s groups.”

Women tear down walls of `development’ and plant saplings of self-determination and autonomy. We need Dayamani Barla.

 

(Photo Credit: India Resists)

Women haunt land grabs and mass evictions

Oxfam came out with a major report this week on land grabs in five countries, Uganda, Indonesia, Guatemala, Honduras, and South Sudan. In Uganda, over 20,000 people were evicted from land they had farmed for decades, evicted so that a British corporation, New Forests Company, could come in, create tree plantations, earn carbon credits, sell timber.

The residents were never consulted. Quite to the contrary, tales of violence abound. For example, Olivia Mukamperezida, whose house was burned to the ground. Her eldest son, Friday, was at home because he was sick. He was killed in the fire. She buried Friday, and now is not sure if he’s even in his grave. “They are planting trees,” she says.

Christine was forced off her land as well: “We lost everything we had .… I was threatened – they told me they were going to beat me if we didn’t leave.”

Christine lost more than everything she had. She lost the future. Before she and her family lived in a six-room house, farmed six hectares, sold produce, sent their kids to school. They had been doing so for twenty years. Now, they live in two rooms, eke subsistence living out of a small plot, eat once a day, and the children no longer attend school.

The Oxfam report highlights the particular vulnerabilities of women, and the specific impact of eviction on women around the world. They note that in Africa, the situation is particularly dire: “Women’s land rights are less secure and more easily targeted. They also depend more on secondary uses of land, which tend to be ignored in large-scale acquisitions. Furthermore, although women comprise the majority of farmers, men effectively control the land and the income derived from it, even if it is the fruit of women’s labour. In practice, a new commercial opportunity often means that men assume control of the land at the expense of women’s access. Thus, new sources of income from the land are likely to burden women and benefit men. The new competition for land between biofuels and food crops, leading to less availability of food and higher prices, is also likely to affect women more than men, as women tend to take responsibility for feeding the family.”

From direct physical and verbal assaults to the processes to the consequences, the entire land grabbing machinery is violence against women.

None of this is new. Previous researchers have issued reports on that describe the gendered impacts of commercial pressures on land, that wonder if land grabs aren’t simply, and intentionally, another bigger, badder yoke on women’s land rights. Activists, such as Esther Obaikol, Executive Director of the Uganda Land Alliance, have also been organizing with women farmers … for decades.

When it comes to land grabs in Uganda, as elsewhere, women farmers have been pushed harder, deeper, further. They are the first and final targets of land grabbing. Mass evictions attack women. Women haunt land grabs and mass evictions … everywhere.

 

(Photo Credit: Sven Torfinn for The New York Times)