Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Atlanta Declared a Renter's State of Emergency

Atlanta is in a renter’s state of emergency. How many of us have engaged in or overheard conversations with folks in our city about the rising rents and rapidly changing face of our city? Development doesn’t have to be a bad word, but what we are seeing in Atlanta right now is the kind of development and wealth extraction that will leave Atlanta totally unaffordable for low and moderate income people.

 On Tuesday July 12th at 11am on the Trinity side of Atlanta City Hall the Housing Justice League released our, “Renter's State of Emergency” report and declared Atlanta a state of emergency for renters and low income homeowners. After the press conference we presented the report to City Council members. 

Some of the report’s findings include:

*Since 2012 Atlanta has lost 5% of its affordable housing every year
*95% of Apartments built since 2012 have been considered luxury
* 72% of Atlanta neighborhoods are considered gentrified or gentrifying
* More than 53% of all renters in the city pay more than 30% of their income on housing, yet many landlords require proof that tenant income exceeds 3x rent

The Rally and Press Conference kicked off with welcoming and introduction to the report from Deborah Arnold. Senator Fort then spoke declaring that "We need to build an Atlanta for everyone." Senator Fort was then followed by stories from those who have been most affected by Atlanta's Renter's State of Emergency.

Autumn Rivers, Atlanta Native and a college student a Bard College, spoke about her experiences growing up in Atlanta, being evicted, and hoping to move back to Atlanta after College, but not being sure if she will be able to afford to. 

Avery Jackson said, "There are systemic intersections of how black people and low income folks are not prioritized in this city." and declared "it is a renter crisis in the city of Atlanta."

Nashia Clemons and Rosalind Hemphill, work and make $7.25 an hour and are both homeless.  Rosalind Hemphill said, "I sleep outside. I can't afford anything. I've been here for 20 years." With Atlanta's current rent prices, it makes it difficult for hard working people to afford rent, especially if they are working for minimum wage. 

Z.Bediako, a third generation Atlantan, spoke about her families experiences living in Atlanta, as well as her own. "We are here today to demand that housing is a human right. When you walk up and down downtown and you see people on the side of the road, thats not a representation of bad luck, thats not a representation of misfortune, that is a representation of oppression, systematic oppression."  

David Waid, a Marta worker,  who can no longer afford to live in the city he works in said "What our reality is, we can work here, but we can't live here". 

The last speaker was Vera Web. Web lives in a senior facility and  spends 60% of her income on her rent because her rent has continued to increase each year. "My rent increased by $85 a month this year, not because the place got fixed up, simply because they felt they could charge more despite the fact that we are seniors who are mostly on a fixed income"

After the Rally finished, members of the Housing Justice League went into City Hall to deliver the report to the Community Development and Human Resources Committee. Sherise Brown and Alison Johnson gave public commentary about the reports findings and delivered the report to City Council members. 

On July 19th, at 6:30pm in the City Council Chambers at City Hall (55 Trinity Ave SW) there will be a public hearingwhere people struggling to afford Atlanta can testify and share their housing story with local and state lawmakers. This hearing is the opportunity for law makers to hear stories of those experiencing an affordable housing crisis. The hearing will be presided by Councilman Dickens, Councilwoman Moore, Rep Park Cannon, Senator Fort, and others. 

Please sigand share the online petition to Georgia law makers!

To read the full Renter's State of Emergency Report click here!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

City View @ Rosa Burney Tenant Association Anniversary

City View @ Rosa Burney's Tenant Association celebrated it's one year anniversary with a 2 day event celebration. In one year, the City View at Rosa Burney Tenant Association has brought together tenants, allies, and the Mechanicsville Community. The tenant association organized to keep City Views at Rosa Burney affordable by getting a HUD contract for 7 years. A very eventful and successful year! 

The celebration kicked off last Wednesday at 4pm with Bingo with Councilman Andre Dickens. Tenants gathered for numerous rounds of competitive Bingo with Andre Dickens calling out the lucky numbers. A great time was had by all!

The anniversary celebration continued into Thursday. Tenants and allies gathered at the Dunbar Center for the Anniversary Party. The agenda was facilitated by the Tenant Association President, Deborah Arnold. There was space for tenants to discuss housing and community issues, followed by guest speakers. Becky Rafter, from Georgia WAND, spoke about Voter Registration. Maggie Kinnear, from Atlanta Legal Aid, spoke about what tenant's legal rights and what to do if they are being violated. After speakers we all had the opportunity to get to know each other and enjoy some anniversary cake. 

Congratulations to City View @ Rosa Burney's Tenant Association for building community power for over a year! We can't wait to see what the upcoming years hold for City View @ Rosa Burney's Tenant Association!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Will the Chinese Be Evicted From DC Chinatown?

Bush Company’s Plans to Build More Luxury Condos Would Displace Hundreds and Mark the End of DC Chinatown

Tenant leaders from across the US joined Museum Square Tenants today to support tenants at Museum Square in DC’s Chinatown facing displacement to make way for luxury condos. Over 100 tenants came together for the rally, which was held outside the DC Chinatown complex.

Approximately half of Chinatown’s remaining Chinese population lives in the 302-¬unit Museum Square building. Most tenants are Chinese immigrants; the rest are African¬American. The owner plans to tear down Museum Square to build 850 high rise luxury condos.

Are the Chinese being evicted from DC Chinatown? That is the question and the concerned shared by many long term residents of the community. “I don’t call it Chinatown anymore I call it downtown; I don’t know why they have Chinese letters on all the buildings. I remember when we used to be able to walk down H street to get rice, vegetables, and everything else we need. Now most Chinese business has been priced out” stated Museum Square tenant leader Jenny Tang.

Last October, the owner declined to renew the federal subsidy contract that kept the building affordable for low income tenants Under federal law, tenants were issued “Enhanced Vouchers” by HUD which provide them a legal Right to Remain in their homes.

Initially, the owner refused to accept the vouchers, but relented under pressure from Museum Square tenants and their allies. Although the owner now accepts vouchers, both the owner and the DC Housing Authority continue to encourage tenants to move.

HUD officials on Monday refused to change their policy which recognizes a tenant's right to remain but requires the tenants to personally enforce that right. This forces low-¬income tenants to contend with well financed real estate developers and owners.

11 yr old Tenant Leader Jasmine Tang
“Just because the owner says ‘you have to move’ does not mean you have to move. Right now, in my heart, it means ‘work as a team and fight,’” said Jasmine Tang, a ten year old tenant leader who lives in Museum Square. “The owner does not know how many people and children he can hurt by just demolishing the building.”


"The struggle of Museum Square tenants has put a spotlight on the issues faced by low income tenants and communities of color across the nation,” commented NAHT President Ed Lucas.  
An on-line petition was created to build pressure to stop the displacement of the Museum Square tenant: https://start2.occupyourhomes.org/petitions/bush-company-stop-the-displacement-of-300-families?bucket=&source=twitter-share-button

Friday, June 3, 2016

Fulton County Drops Case Against Tim Franzen

Almost four years ago Occupy Our Homes Atlanta, now rebranded as the Housing Justice League, launched an ambitious campaign to liberate vacant homes in Atlanta. The first campaign we launched was led by Michelene Meusa, Renika Wheeler, and their two amazing children Dillon and Jahla.

After occupying the house for seven days M&T bank flew down executives from New York and worked with Atlanta Police to evict the family despite community support. Renika and Michelene refused to leave and several other supporters, including myself, refused to leave as well. We knew that arrests were very likely but we also knew that half of the homes in the neighborhood were bank owned vacants that had been sitting empty for years while the Atlanta homeless populations was multiplying. It was a time for drastic measures. 

In the end four of us were arrested but we managed to bring a lot of media attention to Michelene and Renika's struggle and the housing crisis facing thousands of Atlantans. I'm happy to report that many people in the movement stepped up to support Michelene and Renika and they have been living in a home with their children, totally self sufficent, for years.

After that campaign we quickly won our next two home liberations and we started to see more people around the country use that model.

The four of us arrested were charged with criminal trespass. Eventually everyone's charges, except mine, were dropped. Over the years I've had countless court dates related to this charge, some of which I showed up to and no judge was present. There have been two separate occasions in which I was arrested on a failure to appear warrant, both times were extremely suspicious as they were right in the middle of protests or organizing meetings. Another time I was detained for over an hour after being followed by police after an organizing meeting. The officer claimed I didn't appear at a court proceeding related to the charge, thankfully I was able to call my lawyer and a friend from the back seat of the officers car before they attempted to book me.

Today I had to go to court, it was time to set a trail date. It's rare that I get any kind of pleasant surprise from the state but today I did; they decided to drop the case all together! In the paper work they cited: " An assessment has been made by the prosecutor and it's determined that in the best interest of justice the prosecution should be terminated"

I have no doubt that a major factor in this outcome is the fact the cities best movement lawyer, Mawuli Mel Davis of the Davis/Bozeman lawfirm represented me.

Despite the difficulties this specific arrest has brought me over the years I want to be clear that it was 100% worth all the trouble. Doing the right thing can never be wrong and the positive outcomes radically outweigh the personal issues I have endured. That being said I'm grateful to close the book on this one. Thanks to everyone that supported me through the process!

Love and Service,

Tim Franzen
American Friends Service Committee

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Youth Summer of Social Justice Kick-off BBQ in Peoplestown

As the Summer temps heating up so did social justice fun with the youth in Peoplestown. At 4:00pm the grill was fired up at the McDevitt Youth Center on Crews Street. The center is the meeting space for the monthly Housing Justice League meeting. As the food began to cook and the park started to smell like a great Atlanta Summer day the youth started to fill-in. It was not long after that plates were served and the park was full of the neighborhoods youngsters. Food was grilled and served for free to all the youth with hungry stomachs. At the end of the day we served nearly 50 youth and collected contact information for 50 young people in the neighborhood. All of which were invited and reminded to join our new and growing youth space at the monthly meetings. The BBQ was the first step to a Summer of Social Justice for Atlanta’s youth!

The next Housing Justice League mass meeting, which will include a youth break out, will be held Tuesday June 21st, click here for details!