What do Trump, RTHA, and Woody Guthrie Have in Common?

This video!

RTHA’s Saba Nazeer was creative director, and part of the proceeds will support our work. #NoShelterForSlumlords

A collection of unfinished Woody Guthrie lyrics about a racist landlord (who happens to be Trump’s dad) fell into Baltimore folk musician Ryan Harvey’s hands, so he worked with the Guthrie family to finish and record the song with former Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, and Ani DiFranco. Firebrand Records, the label Harvey and Morello started, released the track, filmed a video about renters fighting back, and you should take a look!

Firebrand has generously offered us a portion of the proceeds, because, though times have changed since Guthrie began writing these lyrics, we at RTHA are still fighting the legacy of a housing system built on racist policies to this day. We are building community power to ensure that Guthrie’s “racist landlord”s are not allowed to thrive at the expense of our communities.

You can support us in this struggle by purchasing Harvey’s track here: http://smarturl.it/OMTit

A Change Is Gonna Come: RTHA Is Doing Some Restructuring.

For nearly four years, Right to Housing Alliance has been working with renters facing affordability, habitability, eviction, utility bills, or any other housing issues to build our collective power to change the housing system. We have been able to accomplish so much in those four years! We’ve marched, picketed, called-in, lobbied, sued, court supported, chanted, listened, learned, YELLED, surveyed, studied, canvassed, petitioned, developed our political consciousness,  connected renters with legal support from our outstanding partners at the Public Justice Center to win a nearly $1M settlement from Sage Management, conducted a study and launched the 7,000 Families Campaign to fix Baltimore’s broken Rent Court. Whew!

Up until now, the center of all of this work has been our weekly Member Meeting, but as our reach grows we realize that having a centralized meeting location just isn’t feasible for many members of our community because of transportation, child care, and a number of other barriers to participation that we face. So, we’re changing up the game, and bringing the meeting to our people. Starting in mid-July, we’ll be doing drop-in days at locations around Baltimore, at neighborhood centers, community association meetings, churches, and rec centers. There will be an assortment of locations and times throughout the day to ensure that we are available when and where we are needed, and the calendar will be coming soon!

Don’t worry, we will still have a monthly Member Meeting to bring everyone together and build our collective power!

At the same time, we are soon going to be launching a program that will train our Members in basic legal information on housing issues, so we can empower our own communities to be leaders, and solve some of the widespread problems that we face that might not necessarily require the assistance of attorneys. We’ll be training to train, too, so we can keep passing the knowledge forward! If you are a RTHA Member and want to take part in the trainings, please hit us up and we’ll keep you posted on the details.

The Right to Housing Alliance Leadership Council has been hard at work figuring out how we can do even more in the next year and years to come, and we are very excited about the changes we are making and in continuing to demand the right to safe, affordable housing that we all deserve.

 

RTHA Legislative Update

Right to Housing Alliance has been BUSY. With the release of the Justice Diverted report, Rally for Rent Court Justice, events at Red Emma’s Bookstore, Liberty Rec, and the Park Heights Community Health Alliance as well as lobbying up the members of the Baltimore House Delegation and growing the ranks with new 7K Families Partner organizations, including Baltimore Bloc, Chase House, Bristol House, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and Jews United for Justice, we’re well on our way to make substantive changes for Baltimore renters!

Continue reading RTHA Legislative Update

Member Stories: Appeals Case Win for Felicia

Over the past several years, Right to Housing Alliance Member Felicia A. Lockett has been fighting her landlord, Blue Ocean. As Liaison of the Bristol House Tenant Association, she has been advocating on behalf of herself and other renters against outrageous and allegedly erroneous gas utility charges. After disputes in early 2014, Blue Ocean decided to terminate her lease, and the only reason for the termination was retaliation. That’s right; retaliation for exercising her legal right to organize.

Felicia took action, and represented by the Public Justice Center, she countersued for retaliation.

Continue reading Member Stories: Appeals Case Win for Felicia

Rally for Rent Court Justice: 7,000 Families Campaign Launch

A new study released Monday, December 7th titled “Justice Diverted: How Renters are Processed in the Baltimore City Rent Court”, examines court practices and paints a grim picture of a court riddled with systemic barriers to justice for renters.

The year-long study conducted by the Public Justice Center and Right to Housing Alliance and published by the Abell Foundation surveyed 300 renters about their experiences, compared court documents, analyzed records from Maryland Department of the Environment and Baltimore Housing in order to identify ways in which renters are diverted away from justice in Baltimore City Rent Court.

Request a copy of the full report here.

7,000 Families Campaign

Baltimore is a city of renters.

More than half of households in the city rent their housing. Half of us who rent are paying more than 30% of our income to pay for housing, and one in four of us are paying more than half of our income just to keep a roof over our heads.

We have some of the least affordable rental housing in the country according to median income, and for many of us, safe, affordable housing is out of reach. The housing that is available to us at a price we can barely afford is often riddled with habitability issues: mold, pests, lack of heat or hot water, leaking pipes, faulty wiring.

Each year, 150,000 Baltimore families struggling to afford safe housing—overwhelmingly black women—are summoned to walk through “the eviction pipeline” at Baltimore City rent court, and as many as 7,000 of those families are ultimately evicted.

4 out of 5 renters coming to Rent Court have serious defects in our housing, but many landlords would prefer to keep their costs low rather than ensure our health and safety by making necessary repairs. We have the right to get these conditions remedied, but court customs and efficiencies divert us from justice at every turn in the process…

While 57% of us had valid legal reason to not pay the rent based on conditions of our housing, only 8% were able to present a case to the judge. So, what’s diverting renters away from justice that we deserve?

We are Diverted:

 … from the courthouse

  • Landlords file lawsuits against us one day after rent is due and we end up in court a week later. There is almost no time for us to seek out lawyers, or prepare a case to defend ourselves, or even get the time off work or find childcare.
  • Almost half of us didn’t receive proper notice of our trials.
  • Most of us don’t even make it to the courthouse for our hearings.
  • … from the courtroom
    • Landlord agents or court staff pressure us to negotiate in the hallway before our trials, with many of us believing we are legally obligated to do so.  1/3 of us never make it into the courtroom to defend ourselves. If we do, and we have any dispute, we are told to go again, to negotiate in the hallway, instead of having the facts heard by the judge.
  • … from defending ourselves
    • For those of us who actually make it in front of a judge, 73% of us don’t know that we’re even allowed to defend ourselves by bringing up the conditions of our housing or that we can have rent reduced because of them.
    • Many of us never even attempt to defend ourselves even when we do know our rights, because the judges tell us the only issue at hand is whether rent is paid.
    • 79% of landlords either refused to offer proof of lead risk reduction, or gave a false license number on the court forms. Landlords are rarely asked to back up their claims for rent due, by presenting leases or account statements, or their right to use the court by presenting proof of proper licensing and registration.
    • Even if we bring up these issues, we’re told that this court can’t do anything about it.

The court is very efficient at collecting debt and evicting renters. But we can’t sacrifice justice for the sake of efficiency. Demanding that the court hold up standards of justice and dignity will allow us to wage a real fight for renters’ human rights!

So, how do we fix this?

First and foremost, we need to strengthen and grow the movement for safe, adequate, affordable housing FOR ALL, through raising awareness of the issues renters are facing every day. We need to meet with community residents and leaders at our churches, schools, community centers, recreation centers and spread the word!

We need to build up our power in the communities to make rent court a place of Justice and Dignity and keep those 7,000 families in their homes!

  • Help Renters Navigate the Process– Lawyers and advocates, as well as access to information will help renters understand the court process and their rights. Level the playing field
  • Talk First; Sue Later – A 14 day pre-filing notice period will give us one more pay check to get the rent together, which is often all we need, and will ease the number of cases in court so judges have time to listen to renters’ concerns.
  • Make Landlords Accountable – Landlords should be required to back up their claims with evidence, and hold up their end of the housing bargain. Mandate Annual Health and Safety Inspections for ALL Rental Housing – all Baltimore renters deserve safe housing, whether they are living in a rowhome, apartment, townhome, or house. Landlords should ensure the safety of all of their properties
  • Fund Eviction Prevention Services – Provide a safety net for the most vulnerable renters from eviction.

Together we can stop the Eviction Pipeline and transform Baltimore City Rent Court to value justice and dignity for renters!