Friday, April 30, 2021

Biden Fails to Keep Life Saving Promise in His First 100 Days

  

Yesterday healthcare and global justice advocates gathered to protest President Biden’s drive-in rally in Atlanta celebrating his first 100 days. The demand is that he commit to providing global access to COVID-19 vaccines, as he said he would while he was a presidential candidate. This was part of a national week of action with protestors gathering at pharmaceutical company headquarters and Congressional offices in New York City; Boston; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; Seattle; San Diego; Atlanta; and more. This comes amid mounting political pressure from more than 80 congressional Democrats, 170 former heads of state and Nobel laureates, and new polling showing that 60% of U.S. voters want President Biden to support a temporary waiver on patent protections for the COVID-19 vaccine. 


It was clear that Biden & his staff saw the banner

Yesterday we called on President Biden to stop blocking a proposal from South Africa and India to temporarily waive patent rules at the
World Trade Organization that are limiting global production of life-saving COVID vaccines and treatment. They will also call on big pharma companies to share vaccine technology through the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool. 



Biden has the power to save millions of people and stop the virus from mutating further. The question is, why is he dragging his feet as bodies burn in the streets of India?

Follow the hashtag #FreeTheVaccine to find out more.


Thursday, April 15, 2021

How landlords are getting richer off of late fees and rental assistance

 By Jay Ahmed, ATLEJ Home Defender

 

Two things have happened over the last 6 months: 61 ultra-wealthy billionaire landlords saw their wealth increase by $24.4 billion, and I worked as an Enrollment Specialist for a non-profit organization that was one of dozens contracted by the City of Atlanta to distribute well over $20,000,000 in COVID-19 emergency housing relief aid. I will explain how the two are related. The organization I worked for, and most other organizations that distribute rental assistance, operated under a basic system of:

1. Having individuals fill out applications for assistance.

2. Screening applicants to ensure they have valid leases, mortgages, and financial documents proving COVID-19 hardship. 

3. Filling out income verification forms, eligibility letters, W9's, landlord rental verification forms for applicants with leases, among other forms.

 

Once we verified with landlords or property managers that applicants were indeed current residents with outstanding balances, we would then submit the complete application to the data team/financial department for checks to be sent out and files audited. 

 

Within its first few months, the popularity of the program had spread and it was not long before an influx of applicants and a lack of staffing caused my nonprofit's quality checks and standard practices to loosen. Specifically, after 3 months of administering the program, our rule stating that applicants needed to have an outstanding balance was not practiced. It became common to have applicants applying for prospective rental assistance-- for example, John applies for May rental assistance in April, before May rent is due.

 

Because the process time from application to check takes about a month, we began to pay property managers and utility companies for individuals who in the beginning of the program would not be qualified to receive assistance. 

 

Additionally, late fees were not paid by the COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Fund at first, but a revision changed that. Our "training" stated that it was our responsibility to negotiate late fees with property managers or landlords, but after speaking to a majority of my co-workers I found that none of them negotiate late fees. 

 

Late fees can often make up 20%-35% of the assistance we send to property managers and landlords. When this is extrapolated, the amount of financial assistance wasted on landlords immorally charging tenants late fees during a pandemic and economic crisis is morally disturbing. What is worse is that my nonprofit facilitated this on a daily basis. 

 

I would often catch individuals applying with what I knew was an obvious fake lease and forged separation letter. When I would bring these concerns to my manager, I would often be told "you're not paid to be a detective" or something similar in a dismissive fashion. To my supervisors' credit, they were just trying to logistically get through as many applications as possible. But an important observation I made while working in that system is that the City of Atlanta (and most of Georgia) has virtually no regulations for what can considered reasonable late fees. I’ve seen late fees that charge $15 for every day the rent is late, with no cap limit. The contractual language in the leases I’ve seen are textbook ‘predatorial’. 

 

Nonetheless, this pandering to landlords and misuse of government funds specifically meant to help tenants is a microcosm of the bigger issue at hand: the continued wealth extraction from poor communities of color by thieving landlords, rental assistance organizations that enable landlords, and the courts and law that make these egregious acts legal. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Tresletree Resident's Fight Back Against Illegal Harassment in Atlanta


Uninhabitable living conditions including mold and raw sewage, constant threats of eviction over petty lease violations, ignored maintenance requests, and constant harassment from onsight management are just some of the reason's Trestletree tenants banded together to form a Tenant Association at the beginning of the Summer. 

 For those that don't know tenant organizing is a legally protected activity in not only the the state Georgia, but the HUD contract the Monroe Group(owners of the property) signed makes the federal protections very clear; tenants have the right to organize. 

 After launching an online petition and organizing a peaceful family friendly community rally the property management company, who represents the owners of Trestletree, have doubled down on their harassment of tenants and their right to organize for liveable conditions wading deeper into not only violating Georgia law but breaching their HUD contract.  This is especially troubling considering we are living through an unprecedented pandemic.

The management is attempting to organize their own tenant association, which is a clear violation of HUD policy, they have also threatened to arrest members of outside organizations like the Housing Justice league if they are on the property, also a violation of their HUD contract. We have also learned they have intimidated several tenants who are guilty of nothing more than attempting to fix unacceptable living conditions.

The Atlanta Economic Justice Program will continue to support tenants fighting for their rights and ask that you sign and share the online petition created by Tresltree tenants. 


Monday, March 16, 2020

March 16, 2020 

Dear Chief Magistrate Judge Kirk and Clerk of Superior and Magistrate Court Tina Robinson, 

On Friday March 13, the Magistrate Court of Fulton County declared a Judicial Emergency in an Order and stated that the court will not hear landlord-tenant matters and that answers must be filed within 48 hours of the Order being lifted. This was shortly followed by an Order from the Supreme Court of Georgia declaring a statewide judicial emergency that will terminate on April 13, unless extended. 

On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we are asking that the Fulton County Magistrate Court take further, necessary action to prevent unnecessary escalation of the pandemic and mass displacement:

  1. Publicly confirm that tenants will not receive default judgments for failing to answer a dispossessory warrant or failing to appear in court throughout the declared Superior Court Judicial Emergency period.
    1. Stop accepting eviction filings during the declared Superior Court Judicial Emergency period, to avoid extreme backlog in the courts and mass displacement.
      1. Suspend signing of applications for writ of possession through May 10 2020, in accordance with the guidance from the CDC which recommends the cancellation of all in-person events involving 50 or more people for the next 8 weeks.
        1. Meet with the non-profit, Housing Justice League, and other agencies that work on issues of housing stability and tenants’ rights to develop plans for the period following the health crisis, in recognition that weeks of unemployment and non-payment will result in renters across the city being unable to make rent and extreme backlog in the courts. Plans would need to include public rental assistance and reasonable repayment plans for those who lost wages during the pandemic and its aftermath. 
          On Wednesday March 11 Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, issued an Administrative Order halting the termination of water services for people who fall behind on their water bills. This was an important step to addressing the crisis but it is not enough. Low-income hourly wage workers and renters will face serious financial hardship in the coming weeks and months. Our local governments must do everything within their power to protect people from financial ruin and increased risks to health. For these reasons, the undersigned organizations endorse this letter. Please respond to this letter by no later than Wednesday March 18 by 5:00 pm detailing how you will act on points 1 through 4.

          Signed by:

          Housing Justice League
          SPARK Reproductive Justice Now!
          AMPLIFY GA
          Raksha, Inc.
          BYP 100 ATL/Mecca Chapter 
          Southerners on New Ground (SONG)
          American Friends Service Committee
          Muslims for Progressive Values-Atlanta 
          Georgia Working Families Party 
          The New Georgia Project 
          Twice as Good, inc. 
          IWOC ATL
          The Come Up Project
          Gangstas to Growers
          The Southern Center for Human Rights 

          Why do we Need to Stop Evictions Now and Following the Health Crisis?

          The coronavirus is spreading rapidly throughout the United States and poses a dire threat to public health and economic security, especially for working class people who do not have the option of working from home and who are paid by the hour. Our organizations work with economically precarious communities who are not paid a living wage and live paycheck to paycheck. 

          The potential of losing housing further increases the risk to public health as it forces people to keep working. If people are to lose their housing in the midst of a public health crisis, all efforts at containment would be further compromised. The CDC currently recommends that all individuals who are diagnosed or expect a diagnosis of COVID-19 should self-quarantine for 14 days. Without emergency protections in place, Fulton County residents facing housing insecurity will be unable to afford self-quarantine. To protect the public, we must make staying at home accessible.
          Fulton County and Atlanta Public Schools are closed. At this time many parents need to be with their children and shouldn’t risk losing their housing as a result.

          At present, we do not yet know how long we may need to undertake practices of social distancing. For families that may be subject to unpaid sick leave or forced work stoppages, the front-end costs of preparation (buying food and other necessities) will deplete most of their savings, with little or nothing leftover for rent.

          If a renter loses their housing due to an eviction during the public health crisis, the direct service organizations that serve displaced persons and families will be even more burdened than they already are at this time.

          Residents experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 as they often lack access to necessary preventative measures. Mass evictions will amplify an already precarious public health crisis.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Mayor Bottom's Troubling Behavior Pattern

In response to flooding resulting from over development and neglect, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed decided that 27 homes in Peoplestown, a historically black neighborhood of in Atlanta needed to be demolished to make room for a Japanese themed park and pond.  As a result of persistent protests, rallies and resistance by community members, he decided that one resident, 93-year-old Ms. Mattie Jackson, could stay.  The city of Atlanta filed eminent domain lawsuits against the remaining residents who refused to leave in October 2016.  Resident's names were removed from their deeds, and though they continue to pay their mortgages for the past three years, they do not own their homes and can be evicted at any time. Of the 27 homes and families that originally occupied the block in the heart of Peoplestown, only four homes and four families remain. 

In the midst of a three year court battle, emails surfaced that were written by a former City of Atlanta engineer, who was the project manager for the proposed park and pond, stating that the City didn’t have the necessary engineering to support the taking and demolition of an entire block of homes.  Those emails were written in 2013, BEFORE the first home was demolished.  The engineer, Kimberly Scott, testified in court, under oath, that the actions of the City were neither necessary nor justified and she testified before City Council and asked them to “correct [the] wrong.”
 (See the emails )    


After years of protest, online petitions, and media coverage current Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms agreed to meet with one of the families, Mr. Robert and Bertha Darden, to discuss their desire that the lawsuits be withdrawn and they be allowed to stay in the home they have lived in and raised their children and grandchildren in for over 30 years.  During that April 30 2019 meeting the Dardens shared with Mayor Bottoms the evidence that clearly showed that the City should have never sued them in the first place for their homes and provided her with alternative plans for the block developed by the engineering firm they hired to assist them in the litigation.  

The Dardens left the meeting, which a press release from the Mayor’s office described as “productive”, hopeful that a resolution was near.  Nine months passed and the Dardens heard nothing from the Mayor and the litigation continues.  In December 2019 the Dardens and Tanya Washington, with the support of the Housing Justice League, planned a rally on the steps of city hall and a sit-in in Mayor Bottoms’ office.  After 11 hours, senior officials, Rashad Taylor and Rev Eric Thomas reached out on behalf of the Mayor and expressed a desire and intention to bring the matter to an end before the Christmas holidays.  Residents left city hall and went home to their families with the expectation that the matter would be resolved before Christmas and certain that they would not carry the 7-year fight into the New Year. There was a sense of relief at the thought of lifting this burden. 

The effected residents asked if Deborah Scott with Georgia Stand-up and myself could negotiate on their behalf. We decided to go into negotiations with Mayor Bottom's administration with the assumption of trust despite a track record of poor communications, broken promises, and unanswered calls/emails. We met the day immediately following the sit-in. Reverend Eric Thomas and Rashad Taylor represented the Mayor's office. The meeting was friendly and lasted about an hour. We spent our time laying out terms that would end the campaign and present a win-win solution for the city and the remaining residents.




 It was clearly communicated that the family's terms were reasonable and the Mayor Bottoms was highly motivated to do right by the families. We left the meeting Tuesday December 17th with an agreement that a written road map to resolution would be completed by Friday December 20th.

Over the course of the week we continued to negotiate through email and text message. It started to become clear that the Mayor's team was moving very slowly. We began to hear something that many community organizations have been hearing in regards to promises from this administration, "We're working on it."
Highlighted txt is Tim Franzen

I began to fear the worst, that we had fallen into a trap. Certainly the Mayor wouldn't promise a positive solution to this problem just to get us to pause the campaign through the holidays? Of course this Mayor wouldn't intentionally enter into bad faith negotiations? 

I began to ask if there was anything the families were asking for that the Mayor took issue with. Was the slow down in progress due to ifs or hows? It was made clear that the Mayor had no real issues with any of the families requests and they simply needed more time to work out details.

So we compromised and asked Rashad Taylor and Rev Thomas what deadline would work best and Rev Thomas let us know that Dec 31st would work, so we agreed on a second deadline even though doubts were beginning to arise. 

Highlighted txt is Tim Franzen
 On January 2nd Rev Thomas said they need more time after which we never heard from either Rashad or Rev Thomas, the Mayor and her team has totally ghosted the families since. I can't tell you how difficult it was to watch the joy and hope build as families fighting for their homes began to believe that the Mayor really wanted to work out a solution that all parties could live with only to have the rug pulled out from under them yet again. 

As one of the negotiators entrusted  by the families I felt embarrassed to admit that I believed Mayor Bottom's team was acting in good faith, I encouraged the families and the organizations advocating for them to put the campaign on pause only to have them ignore community after the holidays passed. In my mind it begs the question, is there any good faith in Mayor Bottom's administration?



In the aftermath of this disappointing chapter of this 7 year fight Tanya Washington expressed her pain and confusion, "I simply can't understand how a black, female Mayor who pledged to support the community who voted her into office can treat people this way.  She has seen the evidence that this was never necessary and she refuses to right the wrong the City committed.  My family and I are so tired of this fight.  If Mayor Reed had the power to decide Ms. Mattie could stay in her home why can't you use your power to allow us to stay in ours?"      Mrs. Darden, a senior who has lived in home in Peoplestown for 30+ years is heartbroken. "How long does it take to do the right thing? she asked Mayor Bottoms at a recent Invest Atlanta meeting. "All of this could have been avoided.  Since April of 2019, you gave me and my family hope and then in December 2019 we still had hope, and now we have no hope.  You have shown us that we cannot put our trust in what you say.  The faith we had in you is gone because you do not keep your word and because you will not do the right thing by us."


The truth is we don't know where things stand with the Mayor and the Peoplestown eminent domain fight because the community has been shunned by her office yet again. Maybe she's to busy stumping for Joe Biden, maybe her schedule is to jammed hanging with celebrities instead of following through with commitments she's made to community. At this point we have learned we can't hold our breath waiting on this Mayor to do the right thing.

Outside Ebeneezer during King Holiday Events
So we will continue to show up wherever Mayor Bottoms is so we can tell the truth, so we can remind her of the commitments she's made to communities, and we can hold her accountable to them.  As former Senator Vincent said said, " Using eminent domain as a device to displace black people from their homes is shameful.  That's why I joined the Dardens and Tanya Washington on the King Holiday outside of Ebeneezer Baptist Church to protest Mayor Bottoms' ruthless gentrification policies; educate the public and encourage others to join our resistance."


Tim Franzen
Atlanta Economic Justice Program Director
American Friends Service Committee