Since the start of the pandemic, 60,000 Americans have been evicted from their homes. This is another facet of the health and social crisis that the United States is going through. More and more Americans can no longer pay their rent because they are unemployed or because their income has declined. Forty million households today live under the threat of losing their homes.
From our special correspondent,
At the beginning of September, the government decided on a moratorium on the payment of rents, but evictions continue in some states. In Kansas City, Missouri, a tenants’ association has grown into one of the most powerful citizen organizations in the United States in less than two years. KC-Tenants, created by a young woman, Tara Raghuveer, is today an activist laboratory with far-left political ambitions and a model for the thousands of tenant collectives that are swarming across the country.
« Power to tenants! Power to the people Is the slogan of KC-tenants. This Thursday morning, despite the winter temperatures, they are at least 130 gathered in front of the Kansas City courthouse. Dressed in yellow t-shirts, on which is printed a bull, symbol of the city, they block the entrance to the court. Those whose judgment of eviction from the home must be rendered for non-payment of rent chained themselves to the doors. Their objective is to prevent the hearing from taking place.
For three hours, slogans are linked, interrupted by the intervention of an activist, Ashley Johnson, invited to take the megaphone to testify to her own experience and her attachment to the cause.
« My great-grandmother was a slave, my grandmother was poor, my mother was poor, and I am poor, I have an 8 year old child, he is poor. I’ve been kicked out multiple times because they don’t care. For them, the only thing that matters is money. They raise the rent and you end up sleeping on the streets in your car. They have no heart, no remorse. They don’t care about us. »
Then, it is the turn of a young woman expelled this summer to speak. ” If I’m here today, it’s because it’s been six months since I feel like an unworthy mother who can’t pay her rent. I went through the Covid trying to survive. »
A moratorium on evictions not respected
KC-Tenants demands respect for the moratorium on the payment of rents taken by the federal government and which runs until December. This moratorium, intended to help tenants get through the economic crisis linked to Covid-19, is clearly not enforced in states such as Missouri, where Kansas City is located. Donors who have well-established methods of evicting tenants have no difficulty in circumventing this injunction from Washington. Practices in the rental real estate sector that Lisa Turner, an activist of KC-Tenants, denounces: ” The majority of donors don’t even live in Kansas City or Missouri. These are pension funds or large companies that have no idea of the living conditions of their tenant. They often buy apartments in batches, which they don’t even visit. They entrust the management to an intermediary, who pays him a salary by performing as many acts as possible: writing contracts, inventory, an increase in rent here, cleaning the apartment. over there, etc. They have no interest in keeping a tenant for a long time. »
To have as much turnover as possible, landlords generally write very long contracts that include many clauses offering them plenty of choice to find an excuse to evict the tenant. It is enough that he accommodates a person more than ten days at his place, has left the trash can on the landing, or even made a little too much noise one evening …
And these are practices that specifically target housing that can benefit from social assistance. As the supply of low-rent housing is insufficient to meet demand, landlords are guaranteed to always find a new tenant. Well-versed in legal remedies, donor representatives also know that they have every chance of winning in the event of a lawsuit.
Files pile up on KC-Tenants’ desk and it is the black community that is most affected by the evictions, especially black women. Jenay Manley is one of the front runners at KC-Tenants. She advocates radical solutions and does not hide it: ” In reality, the moratorium is not the solution, because it provides for the reimbursement of all delinquencies at once in December. The solution would be to erase this debt and have the state pay. It’s not people’s fault if there is a pandemic, and just because they can no longer pay their rent doesn’t mean people have to be left homeless! »
Tara Raghuveer, founder of KC-Tenants
KC-Tenants founder Tara Raghuveer is a petite 31-year-old woman. She is discreet in the crowd gathered in front of the court, but when one of the police officers takes a young demonstrator without reason, she does not hesitate to go up to the front, camera in hand, followed closely by the whole group. The activist released and the demonstration over, Tara gives a quick interview on local television: “ Our hotline receives a dozen calls a day from tenants who are facing evictions right now, people who have been out of work for months, who no longer know where to go, who survive by living in their homes. car. There are people who came to see us today at the demonstration who no longer have a home and who for the first time felt they were no longer alone. ».
Tara Raghuveer grew up in Kansas City. Of Indian origin, a Harvard graduate, a promising career awaited her, but she chose to come back to her city: “ I grew up in Kansas City in a rich white neighborhood, although my Indian parents weren’t particularly well off when they arrived. But I lived in a bubble all my childhood, I had access to excellent public schools, libraries, many sports and cultural facilities, it was luxury. It was while studying the phenomenon of expulsions at university, then coming back here, that my world exploded in full flight. Because of course, a few streets away from my little bubble, there were people in pain. And most importantly, I discovered that in our city, people with whom I had grown up, made their living by exploiting other people. I realized that I was playing a role in this system of oppression, which benefits the whites, the capitalists, the profiteers, by exploiting the inhabitants of the black neighborhoods of the city. It got very personal when my neighbor showed me around the building he managed as if he was the head of a slum. He used his gun to threaten people who did not pay rent on time. It shocked me and for the past seven years I have been obsessively collecting data. »
Tara Raghuveer coordinates information campaigns, in-house training or the formation of tenant unions in buildings. But she also succeeded in having the Kansas City town hall sign the tenant’s charter of rights drafted by the collective. A first half-hearted victory since the commitment of the municipality was not followed by concrete actions, nor the necessary funding. Hence Tara Raghuveer’s ambition to go further: “ It is believed that the people who are most affected by the problems are those who are most able to find solutions. So, in the coming years, we are preparing to involve members of the organization in local elections. “. She thinks in particular of Jenay Manley: “ For someone like her to have the audacity to participate in a municipal election to challenge those elected officials who do not represent us, that would be a very important step for our organization. But this is only one means among others, we will continue to take things in hand as we have done today. »
If Tara Raghuveer were to place KC-Tenants on the American political spectrum, she said it would be as far left as possible, but the name does not matter: ” As Tania, a black woman, tells me that she goes to see the administrative services in charge of housing, and that she is arguing with another black woman who is waiting to get her housing assistance, Tania herself says to herself “We shouldn’t be fighting among ourselves but we should be fighting the people in power who created this corrupt system and of which we only see the crumbs”. Tania’s criticism is anti-capitalist criticism and she did not need to read Marx to formulate it. “
For Tania Caldwell, a member of the first hour, the secret of the success of KC-Tenants is also the bond that has been woven between the activists of the association. ” During our first date on February 17, 2019, we were only twelve people, the week after 35, the week after 70, it keeps growing. It is a relational space, we get to know each other personally and intimately, because we need to be very close to help each other and advance this cause which is literally a matter of life and death for many people. . Weaving real relationships is the basis of our movement, we don’t get together just to organize actions, we also spend time together, we see each other outside, we love each other. »
In the long term, KC-Tenants’ objective is to guarantee decent housing for all, in particular by having buildings constructed and managed by the public authorities, in a country where real estate is a private matter, in a very sensitive market. to speculation.
Downtown Kansas City is almost deserted by office workers working from home because of the Covid right now. The only ghosts in the city, and there are many, are homeless people, who mostly sleep in parks. Since January, more than 60,000 people have been evicted from their homes, but there are estimated to be 500,000 homeless in the United States today.