Rent control would be good, controlling corporate and hedge fund landlords would be better

Despite much ballyhoo around Thanksgiving Day in the United States, and other celebrations around the world, the eviction and housing news of the past week has been relentless. In Oklahoma, where “it’s easy to be evicted,” evictions and rent are skyrocketing, thousands are being or recently have been pushed out of their homes into an environment where affordable housing is either unavailable or dangerous to your health. In Quebec, those hoping to flee domestic violence find, again, no available affordable housing. Faced with home-based violence or the violence being unhoused, many are forced to remain in perilous situations. In Florida, residents, often long-standing residents, of mobile home parks are being evicted by new landlords who, upon possession, jack up the rents. In Virginia, mobile home park residents are suffering the same fate. In Charlotte, North Carolina, new landlords are doing the same, taking possession, raising the rents precipitously with the intent of forcing the current residents out into, again, a hostile and even impossible local and regional housing environment. And then there’s the United Kingdom.

According to new government data, between January and March, the United Kingdom saw a record high number of no-fault eviction filings. From end of March last year to end of March this year, the United Kingdom saw a 76% rise in no-fault eviction filings. At least 20% of those receiving evictions ended up being forced out, often onto the streets. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and the approach of winter, the situation is expected to worsen. In June 2019, the United Kingdom government promised to end no-fault evictions. In the intervening three years, they have done nothing, actually less than nothing, given the rise in housing costs. Meanwhile, on Thursday, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, announced that tens of thousands of homes across the United Kingdom are unsafe because “they have not been looked after properly”, not by the landlords and not by the State, that has consistently looked the other way. Tens of thousands of homes do not mysteriously, suddenly become unsafe. So much for levelling up.

Across the United States, and beyond, the fact that the rent is too damned high and even worse, that it’s rising faster than ever before is perhaps finally becoming `newsworthy’. Yesterday, NPR reported, “After gutting local newspapers, hedge fund Alden Global is going after mobile home parks.” Today, The Roanoke Times editorial headline says it all, “Wealthy corporate investors prey on vulnerable mobile home park residents”. What is that preys on the vulnerable? A predator. This weekend, the news focused on Alden Global, a hedge fund that has bought a slew of mobile home parks across the country, including Massie’s Mobile Home Park in Christiansburg, Virginia. Alden comes in, does nothing about repairs, raising the rents impossibly, evicts residents, or just comes in and evicts residents, depending on the local laws. But the thing is, Alden is typical of hedge funds and corporate investors. This is what they do. And they are doing this, as never before, across the United States rental housing market. Rent control is good, essential even, but it won’t stop hedge funds. What is also needed is renter controls. There are tests for real estate agents, why not for landlords? How much is too much? Remember the housing market collapse of 2008, engineered by corporate interests in collusion with banks? Remember “too big to fail”? For some, the lesson was if you get big enough, you’re untouchable. It’s not too late to control the corporates from seizing the housing market altogether. Housing is a human right. Protect it.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit 1: Bill Bragg / The Guardian) (Image Credit 2: Elizabeth Olds / Smithsonian American Art Museum)

“They’re not evicting me. It’s just that, you know, on a fixed income, I can’t do it.”

Across the country this week, eviction filings are skyrocketing, evictions are spiking. In over 500 counties, evictions are now over their historical pre-pandemic averages. Evictions in Oklahoma County are 40% above pre-pandemic levels. Eviction filings and evictions are rising to and often exceeding pre-pandemic levels in Detroit, Michigan; Richmond, Virginia; Akron, Ohio; Nashville, Tennessee. From Virginia to Illinois to Californiaand all points between and beyond, mobile home park residents face rapidly rising rents and, again spiking eviction filings and evictions. Much of this is due to a `new breed’ of investors in the rental market, corporate investors and hedge funds, for whom, as one Richmond, Virginia, resident put it, “I’m not looked at as a human being. I’m looked at as a dollar sign”. Along with all the eviction filings and eviction proceedings, there is another multitude of people who, faced with steeply rising rents, move out. They don’t `decide to move’, they are forced to move, but because nothing was filed and no sheriffs were called, they don’t even figure in the accounting. These are the so-called `informal evictions’. They are the signature of low- and fixed-income people in the throes of the free market. According to one report today, “homeless shelters are seeing more senior citizens with no place to live.” It’s winter in America. Nowhere to go.

In Columbia Falls, Montana, Lisa Beaty, 64 years old, and her partner, Kim Hilton, 69 years old, report their landlord just doubled their rent. The two live on disability payments. They can’t find anywhere to go, and so Ms. Beaty will move into her daughter’s one-bedroom apartment and Mr. Hilton will move into his … truck. As Ms. Beaty explained, “They’re not evicting me. It’s just that, you know, on a fixed income, I can’t do it.” “That light at the end of the tunnel seems like it’s going out,” added Mr. Hilton.

In some places, people 60 and older are becoming the largest demographic living in shelters. What happens when elders move into homeless shelters, spaces not designed for seniors? As Lisa Sirois, a staffer at the Poverello Center in Missoula, Montana, explains, “As soon as someone is unable to make it to the restroom on their own, regularly transfer on their own, really operate independently, we do have to ask them to leave.” In Bozeman, Montana, an elder was asked “to find an alternative place to stay”. He was later found outside a department store, frozen to death. It’s winter in America.

With nursing homes closing, rents rising, and assistance – such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – nowhere near adequate to the cost of aging in America, the much-touted return to normal means an attack on the most vulnerable. Today, it’s the seniors, tomorrow … “They’re not evicting me. It’s just that, you know, on a fixed income, I can’t do it.” “That light at the end of the tunnel seems like it’s going out”.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: City Limits)

On Tuesday, across the United States, voters turned out to support affordable housing!

On Wednesday, a day after the mid-term elections, Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, went to Twitter to announce, “Voters turned out to support affordable housing yesterday! @NLIHC is tracking nearly 100 affordable housing ballot measures advanced by our state and local partners – here’s what we know so far.” While some were fixated on the supposed, and dreaded, red wave or tsunami or tide or whatever it was, which happily never materialized, across the country, activists and organizers worked night and day to address the affordable housing crisis ravaging the country. Here’s what we know so far. First, most of the ballot initiatives supporting funding for affordable housing passed. Second, and equally important, many of them passed by large margins. For example, 70% of voters in Kansas City, Missouri; Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio approved initiatives for more, lots more, affordable housing. Want to watch a wave? Watch housing ballot initiatives across the country.

Let’s start on the West Coast and move eastward. California had 52 local ballot initiatives on housing. In the Bay Area, Berkeley authorized 3000 units of affordable housing. Oakland authorized 13,000 units and also expanded and extended eviction protections. Richmond passed a rent cap of 3% annually. That’s only in the Bay Area. In Los Angeles, voters weighed in on Measure ULA, United to House LA, which would raise taxes on home sales over $5 million. According to ACLU attorney Kath Rogers, “This city ballot initiative is a once-in-a-generation chance to end housing insecurity in Los Angeles. It will help keep people in their homes and support low-income seniors and disabled neighbors. Importantly, this measure will build the homes we need to reduce houselessness.” This initiative came from community-based organizations coming together to articulate their solutions and their visions for the future. The same is happening across the country. At last count, it looked like Measure ULA would pass and handily.

Voters in Flagstaff, Arizona, passed Proposition 442, which raises $20 million for affordable housing, by redeveloping city- and privately owned housing into affordable rental units.  Proposition 442 garnered over 60% of the votes.

Voters in Austin strongly backed a $350 million bond to be used for affordable housing acquisition, repair and rental programs.

In Missouri, Kansas City voters overwhelmingly approved $50 million for affordable housing: “According to the city, the $50 million will be Kansas City’s largest investment in affordable housing ever made.”

In Ohio, Columbia voters approved, again overwhelmingly, $200 for affordable housing: affordable rental construction; affordable home ownership; affordable housing preservation; homeless services.

In Florida, Palm Beach County voters approved a $200 million bond for affordable “workforce” units. In Orange County, Florida, 59% of the voters approved a rent control measure.

In North Carolina, 74% of Charlotte voters approved a $50 million bond for affordable housing. In Buncombe County, 62% of the voters approved a $40 million bond for affordable housing.

In Maryland, 82% of those who voted in Baltimore approved a $14 million bond for affordable housing.

Over the next few days, more results will come in, but the picture is already clear. From “overwhelming” to “strongly backing” to vote tallies showing 60 to 80% approval, the demand to provide adequate, decent affordable housing constitutes the wave. Yes, the country is divided, inequality continues to grow and intensify, `partisanship’ is expressed in both strident tones and acts of violence. But across the country, large majorities of people decided the time is now, housing is a right, make it happen. Housing is a human right. Support for adequate, decent, affordable housing is support for our basic, collective humanity. Join the overwhelming wave, vote for, work for affordable housing now.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Martha Rosler, Housing Is a Human Right / e-flux)

Manston: The spectacularly ordinary cruelty of England’s abuse of the vulnerable

The past week has demonstrated, once again, if any demonstration was needed, the complete mess that is the English government’s `reception policy’ towards asylum seekers, refugees, and, more generally, migrants. At the center is the Manston `processing center’, located in Kent. Early this week, journalists arrived and were refused entry. Security guards began herding people into the buildings, when a group of children broke through their ranks and ran towards the fence. One girl got close enough to throw a message in a bottle over the fence. The letter describes abuse of pregnant women, children living with disabilities, everyone: “We really need your help.” Manston has a capacity for 1600. At the time of the letter, it housed at least 4000 people. In response to the uproar over conditions, the Home Office took some residents, drove them to Victoria Station, and dumped them there, in the middle of the night, without accommodations, winter clothing, information, or anything. This is what `processing’ looks like.

This weekend, it was revealed that people without any experience in asylum or immigration procedures are being hired off the street and, with little to no preparation, are put in charge of adjudicating asylum applications: “It’s a total disaster. They don’t know what they’re doing”. Meanwhile, asylum seekers who make it through the first rung of `processing’ are often dumped in hotels where they are forced to stay, often for over a year. As one Kurdish Iranian asylum seeker put it, “One, two, three months is reasonable in a hotel, but not 17 months. Expecting us to stay with nothing to do is intolerable.” What is going on? Processing. Processing disaster. Processing the intolerable.

The situation at Manston is so bad that the Border Force union is joining a legal action over “horrendous, inhumane and dangerous” conditions. 4000 crowded into a space where the maximum 1600 would have difficulty. People are not supposed to stay longer than 24 hours. They’re staying for more than 30 days. Infectious disease is spreading throughout the detained population. The sanitation is inadequate, to put it delicately. On Thursday, a minister in the Home Office admitted the center was operating illegally. It is still in operation. Seventeen-year-old Mohammad, who spent 25 days at Manston, put it succinctly, “It is not a situation that humans deserve to live in.”

It is not a situation that humans deserve to live in.

There is a tendency to report this situation as one of “neglect”: “Britain’s asylum system is broken after years of political neglect.” Others argue the system has `failed’ or it’s `broken’. Nothing could be further from the truth. The system wants to produce the public spectacle of cruelty. Cruelty is the point. Asylum originally meant `refuge’, “sanctuary’, `inviolable’. Today, it means both `vulnerable’, on one hand, and `dangerous’, on the other. The Home Office has described asylum seekers as an invasion. The Home Office has been using that rhetoric for over twenty years. So, when you read that children are being tortured, know that that is the intention. The spectacle of cruelty is the intention. It is not a situation that humans deserve to live in. Shut it down.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Kent Online)

In Richmond, Virginia, 15 large companies are responsible for half of all evictions

In today’s news, “the number of eviction notices filed in San Francisco has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.” In New Bedford, Massachusetts, longstanding residents’ homes are being bought by developers who raise the rents precipitously, way beyond current tenants’ means, forcing them to move. In one complex, most of the residents received eviction notices. In others, they move before the notices come: “This situation is becoming the norm throughout the city. People are coming in and evicting people who have been living in these houses for 10 years”. And in Virginia, “fifteen large companies are responsible for half of all evictions in the Richmond area.” From coast to coast, this situation of eviction and forced displacement is becoming the norm. Consider Richmond and, beyond it, the Commonwealth of Virginia.

But first, consider the entire country, briefly. According to the Eviction Lab’s latest eviction report, issued on October 8: “In the 6 states and 31 cities we track, landlords have filed for 1,240, 656 evictions during the pandemic. They filed for 7,713 over the last week.” On July 27, the number of filings was 1,053,252. That means, in three months, landlords, disproportionately corporate landlords, filed 187,404 evictions. 15% of all eviction filings in the three years of the pandemic occurred in the last three months, and the number, and rate of eviction, is rising. The numbers for Virginia are equally disturbing.

According to the Richmond-based RVA Eviction Lab’s most recent report, in Richmond, 87% of eviction filings this quarter were filed by corporate landlords. Half were filed by 15 companies. This week, Richmond is set for a record week of evictions, 126 evictions. Pre-pandemic, the weekly number was between 50 and 60. This record breaking week was not a surprise, given a report the week before in which one apartment complex, James River Pointe, bought by a corporation, saw half of the residents receive eviction notices.

A major company, Homes of America, linked to a major hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, has been buying up mobile park homes across the country. This company bought a mobile home park in Montgomery County, in southwest Virginia, and immediately sent residents “notices to quit”, offering them the “opportunity” to pay $700 or vacate within a matter of days. Homes of America,has done the same in North Dakota, Florida, Louisiana, and elsewhere.

In northern Virginia, according to the RVA Eviction Lab report, with the exception of Fairfax County, which saw a dip, all the region experienced a rise in eviction filings and judgements. Alexandria lead the pack: “Eviction filings in Alexandria, Fredericksburg and Prince William increased by 109%, 75%, and 96%, respectively”. Default judgments in Alexandria are approaching pre-pandemic levels, with 26% of all evictions ending in a default judgment, meaning the tenant didn’t show and, by Virginia law, the landlord automatically wins the eviction.

This situation is becoming the norm. People are coming in and evicting people who have been living in these houses and apartments for years. These numbers do not take into account those who have `self-deported’ or been victims of `informal evictions” or “`invisible evictions.’ Essentially, when landlords offer new leases with much higher rents, many tenants are forced to move if they can’t pay.” Others move rather than suffer the Scarlet Letter of eviction filing attached to their name. An eviction filing is as damaging as an eviction, in terms of the ways in which future landlords consider an application. So, what’s going on? While there are many factors, report after report points to the entrance of major corporations and hedge funds into the rental market and the willingness, the eagerness, of corporate landlords to file for eviction. While eviction moratoria and rent control are profoundly important, as long as corporate interests are given a free hand to exert virtually monopolistic control over rental markets, the situation will worsen. That is not inevitable. Stop evictions, stop predatory rent hikes, end corporate domination of housing. This situation cannot be allowed to become the norm.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch / Alexa Welch Edlund)

(Infographic Credit: RVA Eviction Lab)

Ireland and South Africa reject the `natural’ inevitability of eviction

“Yet many of these issues, I found, could not really be thought through, and some of them, I believe, cannot even be focused unless we are conscious of the words as elements of the problems.”         Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society

The weather in the United States these days is terrible. Virginia and the Bay Area, in California, are threatened by tsunamis, while Hennepin County, in Minnesota, faces the prospect of monsoon. These are not meteorological events. They are eviction tsunamis and monsoons. While the figures of speech portray the intense destructiveness of the eviction situation, from coast to coast, they also provide a bit of an alibi, in that they naturalize the precipitous rise in eviction across the United States and beyond. Evictions are not natural events, they are created by humans, individually and in corporations. Likewise, skyrocketing rents and rates of eviction are not natural events; they too are created by individual landlords and, often, by corporate landlords. To the same degree that climate change is created by human action and especially `economic development’, so is eviction. Recently, Ireland and the Johannesburg High Court, separately, rejected the `natural’ inevitability of eviction and chose to promote the right to decent housing as a fundamental element of human dignity and the right to dignity.

In September, with winter approaching, Scotland temporarily froze rents and halted evictions. At the same time, in Ireland, with an equally bitter winter approaching, a third of renters reported they spend 50% or more of their income on rent. Rents in Ireland are “doubling, tripling”, according to Helen McEntee, Ireland’s Minister for Justice. In October, the Irish government decided to follow Scotland’s example and halted all evictions between November and March of next year. While landlords have claimed they are being `forced out’ of the market, tenants and their allies welcome the respite. Everyone recognizes that a five-month halt to evictions will not resolve the severe affordable housing shortage in Ireland, at least it will provide a momentary respite and a modest recognition of the humanity and dignity of those most vulnerable.

Meanwhile, in the case of Rycloff-Beleggings (Pty) Ltd v Ntombekhaya Bonkolo and Others, the Johannesburg High Court ruled that a group of working people’s access to work and right to dignity had to be considered when adjudicating an eviction notice. The case involves waste reclaimers who have been living on an `undevbeloped’ stretch of farmland that lies between a residential complex and a business park in the Midrand section of Johannesburg. In 2018, the owners of the land, Rycloff-Beleggings, decided they wanted to `develop’ the land, and so issued eviction notices. The city offered a site with no possibility of developing waste reclamation economies, and so, in May 2019, the residents sued, demanding to either stay put or be placed somewhere where they could continue to work. On October 4, Judge Greg Wright agreed and gave the city until March 2023 to find appropriate site for the community. Anything else “would leave them at risk of not being able to maintain their dignity and care for their children.  It would be unfair and therefore unconstitutional to uphold the other parties’ rights while the reclaimers go hungry. Furthermore, the rights of children are paramount in cases involving children such as the present one.” If people are on the land, it is not `undeveloped’. If people live in a neighborhood, it too is not undeveloped.

At one level, both Ireland and the Johannesburg High Court chose to respect  the “indivisibility of all human rights”. While the Irish protections only last through the winter and the South African decision is only one court, the examples are illustrative. First, evictions can be stopped. Second, every human being and every community of human beings has the right to dignity. Third, eviction is not a natural, inevitable event. We can stop evictions. Finally, many descriptions and analysis of the housing crisis focus on large numbers, but we must also remember that every eviction is a housing crisis, and every housing crisis is an affront and an assault on all human rights. Scotland, Ireland, and the Johannesburg High Court acted in the name and service of human dignity and decency. Who will follow their example?

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic credit: The Irish Times)

 

With rapidly rising eviction numbers and nowhere to go, Virginia “returns to normal”

When it comes to evictions and the lack of affordable housing, the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, the DC – Maryland – Virginia DMV, offers a somewhat mixed picture. Overall, affordable housing is critically unavailable. As to evictions, while numbers in all three areas are rising, in DC they’re rising slowly, largely thanks to governmental protections and organizing efforts. In Maryland, though eviction numbers are the highest they’ve been since the COVID pandemic began, they’re not yet approaching pre-pandemic levels. Yet. In northern Virginia, however, eviction “filings appear to be catching up … Statewide, monthly eviction filings as of September are at 87.5 percent of the `historical average.’ Monthly eviction filings have also tripled since January.” In August, Fairfax County blew past the so-called historical average by a full 20%, while Arlington County was 14% below and Alexandria was just 4% below their respective historic averages. Last week, the Virginia Poverty Law Center reported a recent 500% increase in calls, so many calls in fact they had to close the hotline temporarily. That’s the normal, once again, and it’s coming to your town soon. So, what’s going on? The common answer is “the end of protections”, which, as far as it goes, is accurate. But that “end”, that “failure”, is public policy, and It’s succeeding, brilliantly, for a few, if catastrophically, for many.

While much of the attention will focus on northern Virginia, the `return to normal’ is statewide. Between January and June, eviction filings across Virginia rose by 88%: “What tenant advocates see as a budding crisis, landlords view as a return to normal.” Here’s normal: five-day eviction notices. Here’s normal: an eviction filing attached to one’s name, much less an actual eviction, means most landlords won’t even consider the application. Here’s normal: rents in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Richmond have risen 43%, 37% and 15%, respectively; and Hampton Roads is one of the 20 most competitive rental markets in the United States this year. In Richmond, filings in September were 82% above Richmond’s historic average.

According to the most recent U.S. Census survey, 34.3% of the United States believes they face likely eviction within the next two months. That’s a bit more than one of every three households. In the Washington – Arlington – Alexandria metro area, 43.6% of households surveyed believe they face likely eviction within the next two months. Since that likely distributed, it’s reasonable to think that the numbers in Arlington and Alexandria are higher. You know what it’s called when 44% of a population is displaced? Mass eviction. And what it’s called when whole communities are wiped out?

A recent article on the current chaotic rental market in England offers four reasons for the mess in England, reasons which might afford some insight into the situation in Virginia and the country. First, a shortage of housing, partly market driven largely policy driven, “enables” landlords to ask for skyhigh rents. Second, “greedy landlords”. In the United States, rental markets have been overtaken by corporate landlords who charge much higher rents and, significantly, file for eviction more quickly, more routinely, more often. Third, lack of protection for renters. Here is where the State comes in … or better, has opted to leave the stage. For a period during the pandemic, the United States had tenant protections, and, just like child tax credits and other pandemic relief programs, those protections worked. Thanks to no fault eviction protections, mandatory eviction diversion programs, right to counsel in eviction cases, evictions dropped. State protections helped turn an existential community wide crisis, in which tenants never had a chance, into a reasonable, regulated negotiation, which, in more cases than not, never had to go to court or involve any sort of threat of permanent loss of home for oneself, one’s loved ones, one’s neighbors. In Oregon this week, people facing 50% rent increases are asking their landlords to reconsider. It’s the only thing they can do, throw themselves on the mercy of the landlord. This is the old new normal for what is called affordable housing. From Virginia to Oregon and beyond, we cannot return to normal.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Tyrone Turner /  DCist / WAMU)

Hope in a time of choler: From India to South Korea and beyond, women’s current and historic rights extended

The news these days is grim, some say “somber”: “currency blowouts and rampant inflation, rising food and fuel prices, and ongoing security threats”; civil and imperial wars; climate crisis forcing millions from their homes, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently. These are days with darkness, but they are not exclusively dark days. There is hope. There is light, and it is real, serious, promising, joyful and momentous. Consider the news from India and South Korea in the past twenty-four hours.

Today, in India, the Supreme Court decided that “unmarried women” have a Constitutional right to abortion. The language of the decision is explicit: “All women are entitled to safe and legal abortion … If Rule 3B(c) [the rule which determines who qualifies for abortion] is understood as only for married women, it would perpetuate the stereotype that only married women indulge in sexual activities. This is not constitutionally sustainable.The artificial distinction between married and unmarried women cannot be sustained. Women must have autonomy to have free exercise of these rights … The rights of reproductive autonomy give unmarried women similar rights as married women”. Women have reproductive autonomy. The Constitution says so. The State must recognize and respect the concept as well as the material reality of women’s bodily as well as agential autonomy.

Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy responded to the decision: “I think in a world where the US is moving backwards and failing to recognise women’s right to their own bodies, this judgment is based on the privacy of the body and non-discrimination between married, and unmarried, separated or divorced women. It recognizes all these rights in constitutional and affirmative terms.”

Today, in South Korea, the Supreme Court to pay compensation to women who had been dragooned, by the State, into so-called “camp towns”, large brothels designed to “service” U.S. soldiers. The camp towns were first established in 1945 and ran for decades, and for decades, women who had been trafficked into them had organized, campaigned, and sued for recognition of and compensation for the South Korean government’s role in that industry. In 2018, the Seoul High Court, in a landmark decision, decided that the women were right and deserved something like justice. There were at least three major issues: the role of the State in recruiting, sometimes forcefully, women into sex work, for `the good of the nation’; the forced segregation of camp town women into forced internment facilities and the indiscriminate administration of penicillin; and, finally, recognition and compensation. 117 former camp town women workers had sued the State, and the Court agreed with them on all counts: “In regarding the right to sexual self-determination of the women in the camp town and the very character of the plaintiffs as represented through their sexuality as means of achieving state goals, the state violated its obligation to respect human rights.”

For decades, former camp town women organized. They organized informally, and the organized formally, through Camptown Women’s Human Rights Alliance as well as other organizations. The State appealed the Seoul High Court decision, basically playing the same game as Japan has with `comfort women’, delaying and delaying in the hope, if that’s the right word, that all of the applicants would die before the final decision. Today, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision, and its language was explicit and crystal clear: “The government’s formation and operation of the military base villages, and encouraging and justifying prostitution inside them constitute a violation of the duty to honor human rights”.

Two Supreme Courts today, issuing decisions on different but linked issues, agreed: Women must have autonomy to have free exercise of their rights, and it is the duty of the State to honor those rights as civil, human and women’s rights.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: India Times) (Photo Credit 2: Hankyoreh / Kim Min-kyung)

Hope in a time of choler: From Antigua and Barbuda to St. Kitts and Nevis and beyond

The news these days is daunting.  This weekend, Italy followed Sweden’s example, earlier in September, and elected a “hard right” candidate as Prime Minister. The far right is “having a moment” in Europe and beyond. These are grim times, but they are not without hope. There is light, and it is real, serious, promising, joyful and momentous. Consider the news this past month, beginning with St. Kitts and Nevis.

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court was established in 1967. It has unlimited jurisdiction in six independent countries: Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Additionally, it has unlimited jurisdiction over three British Overseas Territories: Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Montserrat. This is a juridical, social, political, economic map designed and engraved by colonialism, a map that many thought was immutable. Well, the immutable is mutating.

St. Kitts and Nevis was one of the first of the Caribbean islands to be colonized by the British. The British started planting tobacco, but switched to sugar in 1630. Growing sugar proved to be labor intensive, and so, `naturally’, the British brought in enslaved peoples from the African continent. By 1776, St. Kitts was the richest British colony in the Caribbean. The British didn’t only bring tobacco, sugar and slaves to St. Kitts. They also brought a system of laws, at the center of which were laws `regulating’ and `normalizing’ intimate relations, laws that criminalized any and all forms of gay sexual activity, under the guise of protection of the person. Colonial and imperial protection has always stigmatized and criminalized all minority populations. Last month, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court decided that it’s time for the colonial rule to end.

In early July, in Antigua and Barbuda, the High Court struck down a colonial-era law banning same-sex acts between consulting adults. At the end of August, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court issued a similar judgement, this time concerning St. Kitts and Nevis. The Court heard a case brought by Jamal Jeffers, an openly gay man living in St. Kitts and Nevis, and the St. Kitts and Nevis Alliance for Equality, with the support of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality. The St. Kitts and Nevis Alliance for Equality was founded by Tynetta  McKoyis, who  “identifies as a gender non-conforming queer woman.”

In his decision, High Court Judge Trevor M. Ward argued that the sections that criminalize “buggery” and any attempt thereof were violations of the Constitutional right to protection of personal privacy and the right to freedom of expression, and so were declared null and void, effective immediately. Constitutional protections subsume colonial `protections’. As Judge noted, “Due to our colonial legacy, the Offenses Against the Person Act was introduced as part of the laws of Saint Christopher and Nevis by Act 7 of 1873.  Section 56  has  retained  its  original  form  while section 57 was amended in 2012 to increase the maximum penalty for indecent assault from four years to ten years.” 1873 to 2022. It’s time, way past time, to conclude the “colonial legacy”.

In 2015, eastern Caribbean LGBTQI+ activists, many of whom had been deeply involved in HIV and AIDS organizing, met and formed the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, ECADE, under the leadership of Kenita Placide. In 2020, ECADE launched a five-country challenge to anti-gay laws, all of which had been products of colonial legislation. Antigua and Barbuda was the first decision, St. Kitts and Nevis is the second. Barbados and St. Lucia cases should be decided before the end of this year. As Kenita Placide explains, “Our strategy has been multilayered; working with activists on the ground, our colleagues, friends, allies and family. This win is part of the transformative journey to full recognition of LGBTQ persons across the 11-nation Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.”

This win is part of the transformative journey … across the Caribbean and beyond. The struggle and the journey continue.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: ECADE / Twitter)

Spain finally begins to settle a historic debt to domestic cleaners and carers

“Today, we, domestic workers, are organized in such a way that this has been one of the most powerful struggles waged in Spain.”

On October 1, thanks to a law enacted in early September, Spain will finally include the category of domestic cleaners and carers into the protections of national labor and welfare law. This comes after, and during, decades of women worker organizing. This comes six months after the European Court of Justice found Spain guilty of violation of European Union laws concerning unemployment benefits. This comes eleven years after Spain passed two laws that were meant to formalize and regularize domestic workers’ status and conditions. In its judgement, the European Court noted the obvious, that 95% of domestic workers in Spain (as elsewhere) are women, and so the discrimination against domestic workers bears more heavily on women. Additionally, Spain’s domestic workers are disproportionately immigrant workers. According to the Workers’ Commission, Confederación Sindical de Comisiones Obreras, or CCOO, close to 600,000 women work as domestic workers in Spain. Of that number, 44% are migrant or foreign. While many come from other EU countries, many also come from outside the European Union, especially Romania, Morocco, Italy, Colombia, and Venezuela. It is expected that the new law will affect around 373,000 women workers. That means it will not affect close to 200,000 women workers, who are `undeclared’, meaning working without a contract.

First, this is a major victory. Women workers individually and collectively, and especially women workers organizations, have lobbied locally, nationally and at international platforms, such as the ILO, to be incorporated into the recognized formal labor sector. Equally, they have lobbied and organized to be recognized. Spanish women workers have long argued that the exploitation of and discrimination against domestic workers works to impede progress and equality for all women in Spain and beyond.

At the same time, why does a leftist government, such as that of Spain, have to be hauled into court in order to do the right thing? When the legislation was passed, Labor Minister Yolanda Diaz noted that the government was “settling a historic debt with domestic workers”. The new law is indeed a major step forward. It means domestic workers can claim unemployment benefits, employers must contribute to unemployment insurance, employers can no longer dismiss a domestic worker without just cause and due process, domestic workers qualify for health insurance and other healthcare protections, and, finally, domestic workers qualify for access to training to improve their professional qualifications. These are all important, major improvements, produced, again, by decades of concerted struggle on the part of women workers.

But does it settle the debt? No, not by a long shot. First, and again, almost half the women who work in people’s homes, providing essential services, work without a contract. They are not covered by this legislation. Second, the debtor does not get to declare the debt paid. When the women workers’ movement declares the debt paid, then it’s paid. Who pays for those women across the decades who’ve struggle and continue to struggle in Spain, as elsewhere, for dignity, equality, power, well-being? As Amalia Caballero, a domestic worker from Ecuador, noted, “There’s still a long way to go.”

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Capire)