Who are your neighbors? Maybe they’re an older couple who has grown-up children, a well kept garden, and a friendly word when you see each other. Maybe they’re a young family who throws bonfires that end at a reasonable hour, occasionally shovel your sidewalk, and seem to live life at a full sprint. Maybe there’s a quiet house, and you barely know what it’s occupants look like.
Maybe, and it could be next door or along your morning commute, there’s a crumbling brownstone. The grass is allowed to reach six or seven inches until it is mowed bald. The wrought iron handrail is rusted, wavering, loose from the concrete. And always there are children running wild up and down the block. Whoever lives in these buildings, it may seem, is just dirty.
The problem is discussed at a neighborhood meeting. It is agreed: renters move too frequently, there’s no way to reach out to them, they have no stake in the community. It is almost an afterthought to ask: Where is the landlord? Why does the city allow this?
Who are your neighbors?
The reality for a renter in one of these large buildings may be different than you imagine. Eviction is a common response to a repair request. Even if a tenant wins their case, the process comes with an “unlawful detainer”, a red flag for landlords which is permanently attached to the tenant’s rental history. Tenants learn to stay quiet, no matter how much their home decays or how high the rent is raised.
In the last year, Inquilinxs Unidxs has seen shocking neglect. One building had a broken door that allowed anyone who knew the secret (pull hard) to get into the building. Together, two men were robbed of more than $2,000 in the hallways of their apartment building. The heating system in that building was so inadequate, the windows so ancient, that temperatures in apartments regularly fell below sixty degrees; children wore their coats to bed.
The reality for landlords is quite different. They may live in waterfront houses, provide excess comfort for their families, and have open lines of communication to regulators and lawmakers. Due to gaping loopholes in the city’s housing inspection laws, most of these disintegrating buildings are scheduled as “Tier 1”, the highest rating the city gives rental properties. If a work order is issued to the landlord of a building with more than three units, enforcement can amount to little more than the honor system.
The system justifies itself: because an unregulated Market is the most efficient way to distribute resources, then if the market demands a 40 percent increase in rent, then suffering is good. The realities of our poorest belie this myth, their stories show the truth. This slavish devotion to an abstract concept demands that spiritual necessities like home and security be reduced to a price. It demands that the poorest sacrifice their bodies (in the form of labor) and their dignity (in the form of subsistence living) to the Market and it’s inscrutable Forces.
This is not moral and it is not just. It is not even legal. Landlords, regulators, and lawmakers need to be held accountable – to enforce the laws already on the books and to close the loopholes that allow this injustice to continue. The reality of the situation needs to be seen.
Every week IX will post pictures and stories to illustrate the human cost of this system, to better understand the lives of our neighbors.
It is time to Picture Our Struggle. We will not be moved.