Don’t Use Harvey as Excuse for Kicking Residents Out of Homes
Socialist Alternative helped publish this opinion-editorial piece in The Houston Chronicle, the third largest newspaper in the country.
As the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey inundated the first floor of the 2100 Memorial Drive Apartments, residents could not have known that the real storm was only just beginning. The next storm was unleashed by the city of Houston when it tried to force residents out of their homes.
2100 Memorial is a public housing development located in the heart of Houston and owned by the Houston Housing Authority. Residents are mostly seniors and veterans, with the majority on some form of government assistance.
None of the individual apartments were significantly damaged by the hurricane. Only the common areas on the lowest floor were flooded. However, three weeks after Harvey hit, HHA suddenly issued a notice that all leases were terminated and that tenants had only five days to leave the property. Why?
HHA claimed unspecified damage along with “health and safety reasons.” The news came as a shock. Many residents questioned both the alleged safety threats and the three-week interval between the storm and the notice.
The day after receiving the eviction notification, angry seniors confronted Houston City Council to demand answers. Residents have repeatedly requested proof of safety issues from HHA officials, but their reply was simply “You have to trust us.” The HHA never offered evidence of dangers to justify the residents’ eviction.
It’s worth noting that 2100 Memorial sits on prime real estate near downtown. Many residents and the Houston chapter of Socialist Alternative strongly suspect that developers are eager to exploit the hurricane as a rationale for replacing this public housing with a profitable property development. As so often happens, the government – in this case, HHA officials – is not acting in the best interest of the residents. In fact, it seems they are acting precisely in a manner that could benefit profit-driven developers.
Socialist Alternative is a national organization fighting exploitation and injustice against ordinary people. In response to the city’s eviction efforts, we helped residents form Seniors Stand United, a committee to defend their right to stay in their homes. Seniors Stand United is calling for transparency from HHA and that there be no forced evictions without proof of dangerous conditions. We also demanded that any flooding damage be repaired and that the building be maintained as affordable housing for seniors.
Many of the seniors are now parties to a lawsuit brought by Lone Star Legal Aid to force HHA to make repairs and stop evictions. Seniors Stand United also organized protests to pressure HHA and other decision-makers to meet residents’ demands. We organized a collective rent payment after HHA refused to accept tenants’ rent. We protested at the courthouse to bring attention to a hearing on the lawsuit.
Last week, a judge sided with residents, ordering HHA to conduct repairs without evicting residents. However, the fight is far from over. If Mayor Sylvester Turner does not stop the threat of future evictions, we are set to go to trial in March.
Until then, we call on the public to keep up the pressure on the city to ensure that 2100 Memorial residents can stay in their homes, to see that necessary repairs are made and to keep the complex as affordable housing. If any relocation is necessary, the city must provide quality alternative housing without rent hikes.
This shameful attempt to evict low-income seniors and veterans must be stopped. A victory for the 2100 Memorial residents will lift the spirits and hopes of other tenants across Houston, as well as working-class people along the Gulf Coast and in Puerto Rico who are facing similar unjust evictions in the aftermath of hurricanes.
By organizing, we can win the immediate fights of today and build a movement to ensure that the needs of the people prevail, not the greed of real estate developers.
Henderson is with Seniors Stand United and a resident at 2100 Memorial. Harrison is an organizer of the Houston chapter of Socialist Alternative.