Hello Right to Housing Alliance friends and supporters!
We hope everyone had a great holiday season and New Year. We’ve spent the past year working with our members as they fight for their rights in and out of court, engaging in study on housing and human rights, learning together and growing our Membership, celebrating and defending our human rights, exploring and strengthening relationships with partner organizations, moving into our first office, and struggling with Little Smokey, our now retired printer. Our members have spoken on panels, had their stories published, and taken the lead in the fight for their rights.
As the year ends and we look back and reflect at the work we’ve done together, we find a lot to celebrate, a lot of lessons learned the hard way, and a lot of opportunity to propel the Right to Housing Alliance forward to engage more residents in working for the human right to housing and beyond.
Here’s a little taste of what we did last year…
We held weekly Member Meetings all year at the Park Heights Community Health Alliance where we engaged in human rights study and connected tenants with attorneys from the Public Justice Center for legal advice and representation for help with rent court hearings or safety and habitability issues. We saw hundreds of tenants throughout the year!
In May our members began leading the charge to challenge Sage Management, who’s policy of charging predatory fees earns them over $10,000 per month while their tenants bear the burden of rent court hearings, safety and habitability issues, and are routinely dismissed when they try to address these issues with management. Our members’ campaign for Peace & Dignity from Sage Management continues, despite Sage’s attempts to curtail our organizing with threats of litigation. In July our members held a press conference on the steps of Rent Court to raise awareness of predatory landlords like Sage and others, and a court system that allows them to use the court as a personal debt collection service.
In June, we wrote a piece for Word on the Street, Baltimore’s homeless run and distributed street paper, about changing the story about housing in Baltimore and featuring stories about our members and the challenges they face. Check out the article here.
Back in July were asked to sit on a panel with our friends from Take Back the Land, the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, and the ACLU at Left Forum in NYC. We were so honored to have been invited and to be in conversation with organizations doing such amazing and thoughtful work, and as sad as we were to hear of TBTL’s decision to sunset, we were very proud to take part in the debrief and reflection.
In August, Members Nolan & Sharon Bell walked out court with a judgement for rent abatement and damages from their landlord Toriano C. Martin, who had been neglecting their home for years. We supported them through five attempts to get remedy through the court and in the end with the combination of pressure in and outside of court they were victorious in their struggle.
In the fall issue of Word on the Street we were proud to have another piece published, this time by Member, Detrese Dowridge, about her fight for Peace & Dignity from Sage Management and why she turned down a deal from them that would have solved her problems, choosing instead to hold out and make sure that others achieved relief, too. Read it here.
In October we were honored to be asked to present a workshop at Fusion Partnerships‘ Innovation for the Greater Good Conference along with artists from the Wallhunters on the Intersection of Community Art and Community Organizing.
This fall, we elected a Leadership Council from the Membership of Right to Housing Alliance, the majority of whom are tenants who have directly struggled with predatory landlords or substandard housing conditions and are committed to taking the lead in working to ensure their human rights and the rights of others. The Leadership Council is looking forward to steering the work and vision of Right to Housing Alliance.
This winter we’ve joined our partners at the United Workers as a Human Rights Committee, engaging in a program devoted to Human Rights scholarship and leadership development along with other groups fighting for the rights of homeless, for healthcare for all, challenging the construction of an incinerator, and leading the charge for Fair Development. We’ve also joined with them and a number of other groups to work on solutions to affordable housing involving non-speculative alternatives using the many vacant homes in Baltimore.
In November, Right to Housing Alliance organizer Jessica Lewis was awarded a Baltimore Community Fellowship from Open Society Institute, which will allow her to continue and expand her work with the Members of RTHA in promoting and fighting for the human right to housing.
Also in November, RTHA participated in a Sleepout for Housing Justice hosted by Homeless advocacy group Housing Our Neighbors, to round out National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Again, RTHA Member Detrese took to the mic to tell her story and tell the world that Sage Management can’t take her dignity!
This winter we launched our first issue of “Neighbor to Neighbor,” a monthly newsletter created and distributed by Members to share stories, resources, and rights. They write the stories, lay out the newsletter, and share it with their friends and neighbors for a publication that is uniquely RTHA. We couldn’t be more excited about it, and hope you will be too. Check out the first issue here.
We hosted a Human Rights Holiday Party to wind down our year and celebrate with our Members and partners. We were delighted to be awarded that night with the John P. Sarbanes Courage Award, presented by the Public Justice Center. Our members Detrese Dowridge and Nolan & Sharon Bell were also presented with awards for their commitment to fighting for their rights and the rights of others, and we could not be more proud to be in the company of such leaders.
We had court wins, some losses, and encountered some brave tenants willing to put themselves on the line to help their neighbors. We could not be more proud of our Members, and everyone who helped fight for human rights in 2013. We would like to thank Fusion Partnerships, our amazing fiscal sponsor for putting up with us this year and allowing us keep our eyes on human rights while also connecting us to a network of other organizations doing truly inspiring work. We’d like to thank the Public Justice Center for their commitment to providing legal advice and representation to our members in court and at our weekly meetings for the past year and a half. We would like to thank our volunteers, supporters, Kacie Mills and Laura Brewer-Yarnall for designing our beautiful new logo, friends who showed up to stand with our Members. We’d like to thank Research Associates Foundation, RESIST, The Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund, Fund for Change, and Open Society Institute, and to all who made donations big or small for believing in our work and the change that we can make. We could not do this work without you.
As we continue striving to get at root solutions to Baltimore’s housing crisis in the coming year (and years!) we hope you’ll join us. We all have to live somewhere, and we all deserve to live somewhere safe, truly affordable, and with peace and dignity.
Sincere thanks and here’s to human rights in 2014!
The Right to Housing Alliance Leadership Council