Eviction & intersectionality: Why black women need housing justice
September 14, 2014My heart sank once I realized it was an eviction notice. After coming home from an underwhelming day at work, I looked forward to zoning out on TV realities that were infinitely more exciting than my own reality. I never imagined I would be greeted by a real-life soap opera in the form of an official-looking notice posted on my door. That day, I became the recipient of a one-way ticket on the eviction train, party of one. Needless to say, the notice put a wrench in my ambitious plans for the evening.Where did I turn first? Google. I didn’t know the first thing about eviction. At that point in my life, I thought simply mentioning evictions was a little taboo — I believed eviction only happened to people way more downtrodden than myself. Growing up, whether it was true or not, I always considered my family middle class. Surely, an eviction could never happen to a girl like me (I had yet to recognize that my current job hardly qualified me for a place in the middle class and that my salary bordered those of the working poor).Upon Googling the foreign concept of tenants being forced out of their homes, I found nothing to ease the anxiety gradually building in the pit of my stomach. The legalese, convoluted language and complete lack of tenant resources I encountered on the Internet provided little information and no peace of mind. I felt lost, dazed and confused. Surely the nice ladies in the office of my apartment complex were willing to negotiate with me to ensure a roof over a fellow woman’s head.Rude awakening: Any sisterhood I ever had with my apartment’s white female property managers was null and void now that I was headed to Eviction Land. Solidarity be damned! After pleading with them for a merciful payment plan, they told me my best option was to pay off my balance and move immediately. Of course, I did not have enough money to pay them what I owed — I was paying far more than 30 percent of my income, which explains why I fell behind on my rent. No safety net in sight, I needed to stay in my apartment as long as possible (which was not very long according to the Google gods).I never saw the sheriff — I vacated my apartment just in the nick of time. With my tail tucked between my legs and feeling irresponsible as ever, I moved back to Georgia (my home state) to crash on a family member’s day bed. I wish I knew then that my shame was unwarranted and that my story of eviction was not an extraordinary one. A recent study conducted by the MacArthur Foundation revealed that poor Black women are disproportionately impacted by evictions. The study found that while Black women were only 9.6 percent of Milwaukee’s population, they experienced 30 percent of the city’s court-ordered evictions. This distressing statistic was attributed to a number of factors including low wages, intimidation by male landlords and triggering the aggravation of landlords because of child and partner-related incidents. Apparently, several landlords find eviction justifiable when a Black woman merely makes a complaint about mold affecting her children’s health or when she lives with an abusive partner who causes domestic disturbances.My “Blackness” and my “womanliness” are both things that I love about myself and other Black women; however, neither polls well in today’s discriminatory housing market. Black women face higher eviction rates than any other group because of our marginalized identities. While the term “intersectionality” has been appropriated to reference a plethora of social phenomena, it was originally coined by Black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how the multiple oppressed identities of Black women collectively contribute to how people perceive us in society. If you asked me to hypothesize why women of color bare the brunt of evictions in this country, I would point you down the path of intersectionality.In the tradition of countless resilient Black women that came before me, I made lemonade out of lemons by carving a career path out of a hardship — stopping evictions became my line of work. After moving back to Georgia, I tapped into a vibrant community of activism, which eventually led to a job as an organizer for a housing justice organization called Occupy Our Homes Atlanta. Our mission was to repair the devastation caused by the housing crisis in Atlanta by fightingforeclosure and eviction through direct action and public pressure.Unsurprisingly, the majority of our residents-in-struggle were Black, and many of them were Black women. These women inspired me to no end — they were smart, radical and ready to salvage their slice of the American Dream by fighting like hell to save their homes. I will never forget one of my favorite resident-activists, Mildred Obi. A daughter of the Civil Rights Movement, she occupied her home after being evicted and eventually won it free and clear from Bank of America. Mildred harnessed her power in the name of housing justice and continues to help others in danger of losing their homes. She is a prime example of why Black women need housing justice: Because when we fight, we can win. As Black women, even the seemingly simple act of survival is a fight, so fighting for our human right to housing is inherent in us.I carry Mildred’s spirit with me in my new position as a community organizer with the Tenants Union of Washington in Seattle, which was recently named the number one city for apartment rent increases in the country. Any push for rent stabilization in Seattle will be a hard-won fight due to a statewide ban on rent control. Displacement and gentrification both run rampant in the city as for-profit developers snatch up affordable housing and drive up rents in historical communities of color. While our city’s Just Cause Eviction Ordinance prevents landlords from terminating tenancies at will, still approximately 10 households are evicted every day. I brace myself for all of these challenges knowing that other Black women are in this fight with me ready to create space for other Black women in the housing justice movement. I fervently believe that my role in this movement is to amplify and elevate the voices of Black women because more than any other population, we need housing justice and we need it now.