The Fight for Fair Housing for Baltimore Renters

TRNN speaks to advocates fighting for Baltimore’s tenants to have more power in rent court

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Story Transcript

MEGAN SHERMAN, TRNN: Amid thousands of evictions in Baltimore, advocates say that there needs to be more done to fund programs that assist residents with rent. The Real News learned of a renters’ assistance program that has been defunded.

JESSICA LEWIS: We know that that funding for eviction prevention services has just been cut a lot of times. We send people up there … they’re doing all the can, but they just don’t have the funding to help people who are in crisis. And as we can see from the numbers, a lot of people are in crisis.

SHERMAN: Cutbacks come just as striking statistics show that thousands of evictions happen each year. According to the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office, between 2013 and 2014, the city executed 17,000 evictions, which is almost 30 per day. Jessica Lewis says that number is too high.

LEWIS: 150,000 times a year, someone’s unable to pay their rent. It’s a massive problem, and results in about 7,000 evictions a year. It’s been hovering around 7,000 evictions per year for about the past ten years. Seeing essential services that keep people from becoming homeless getting cut is just really problematic.

SHERMAN: Solange and Amin moved into an apartment without signing a lease, and shortly thereafter were hit unexpectedly with a higher rent after their landlord discovered that they had increased their income. Solange talks about the retaliatory eviction that resulted after they refused to pay.

SOLANGE: Well, like, several years ago we experienced the retaliatory eviction from a private landlord. It was a really horrible experience, she started doing things like throwing the food out of our fridge, throwing the fridge out. Having people come in and spraypaint, and paint the floors at odd hours of the day.

SHERMAN: Amin describes how dealing with the landlord impacted his ability to work.

AMIN: Well, when the eviction happened it definitely cut into the amount of hours I could stay at work, because I had to get home. We just had a baby, so we had to take care of the baby, make sure that the landlord’s retaliations wasn’t affecting the baby. When all that happened, we didn’t really have anywhere else to go, you know? And … actually, right after that happened, we had to end up living in the shelter. So it was … it was pretty difficult.

SHERMAN: According to a 2003 Abell Foundation report, landlords are given far more power than tenants when issues over unpaid rent are taken up in court. Many tenants like Amin and Solange say that rent court isn’t helpful in resolving issues with landlords.

SOLANGE: It was pretty much her word against ours, and there wasn’t really much we could do about it, because we didn’t have a lot of things in writing. Everything is kind of set up to be in favor of the landlord. The court costs, how inconvenient it is to have to take off work or find childcare. All those factors kind of just … whether or not things were working in our favor just made us very difficult for us as tenants to get the justice that we were due.

SHERMAN: Advocates say that evictions are a symptom of a lack of affordable housing and jobs that pay workers a living wage.

AMIN: Each year that I’ve been able to raise my income by getting a new job, every year the housing goes up. So it’s … it’s like, impossible to keep up the housing. Because it’s like, get a new job, more money, now the housing is even more expensive. And it happens every year.

SHERMAN: The Right to Housing Alliance is in the process of completing a study on rent court to develop solutions that will give renters more power. The Real News will follow up on this story as it develops.

This is Megan Sherman reporting with The Real News Network.

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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.