Welcome to our forum for highlighting innovative initiatives from state and local housing and homeless coalitions advocating to increase housing opportunities. The goal of Advocacy Skillshare is to advance cross-pollination of ideas, tactics and strategies that effectively advance housing and homeless advocacy. Have a good experience or idea to share with Advocacy Skillshare? Send it to Michael Anderson.
Around the nation, housing providers are taking steps to protect the rights of their tenants amid the intensification of enforcement and abuse by immigration agents. While attempts to protect the rights of tenants from abuse by law-enforcement are nothing new, they are more important than ever in a time when law enforcement agents, emboldened by a sympathetic presidential administration, are willing to push the limits of their legal authority and in the process infringe on individual rights.
An example of the sort of violations occurring throughout the nation happened recently when ICE agents in full tactical gear approached a family housing complex without a warrant, under the pretext of a search for a resident sex offender (tenant application requirements ensure that no such sex offender lived in the complex). Finding the front desk un-staffed, the heavily armed agents attempted to enter through a ground floor preschool before being discovered and expelled from the building for lacking the legal authority to enter.
Many housing providers are fighting back against these, and other, abuses. Conversation with a number of organizations around the country (who will remain unidentified due to the sensitive nature of the topic) has resulted in the collation of various strategies and initiatives for protecting tenant rights.
Protection against unlawful warrants
ICE has been known to attempt to pass off administrative warrants signed internally by ICE officials as judicial warrants signed by a judge. In truth, an administrative warrant does not give ICE the authority to enter private property without the owner’s consent. While some organizations have trained staff to recognize the difference between administrative and judicial warrants, this can be tricky. Instead, it may be best to follow in the steps of one organization that put signs on every door stating that employees do not have the authority to allow entrance to law-enforcement, and that warrants must first be verified by the Executive Director and his legal counsel to gain access to the building
Know Your Rights Campaigns
For an individual to assert their rights, first they must be aware of what they are. Holding Know Your Rights clinics is an effective way to educate tenants on their rights, and to provide guidelines for how to react when approached by law enforcement or unscrupulous landlords. Beyond clinics, organizations have also put up Know Your Rights flyers and distributed Know Your Rights Red Cards in various languages for tenants to keep on their person.
Access to Legal Resources
Many organizations provide free and low-cost legal assistance to low-income individuals, but people often do not know how to access these resources, especially when there is a language barrier. Partnerships between housing providers and organizations providing low-cost legal assistance provide tenants with easier access to legal expertise.
As expedited removal proceedings become increasingly commonplace to fast-track deportations and deny immigrants a hearing before a judge, ever increasing numbers of families broken by the immigration system are thrown into disarray as children lose their mothers and fathers. To decrease the chaos, some groups are helping immigrants put together family toolkits. Family toolkits are personalized guides for what to do if a family member gets detained by immigration, and include listings of who to contact, who will take care of any children, and more. Having a plan in place can help to limit the trauma to children if their parents are taken.
GNOFHAC posted on their Facebook page about the event: We laughed so we wouldn’t cry about the conditions so many renters live with in this great city. Lesson learned: We have to stop asking why people don’t leave bad rentals, because often they can’t. We have to start asking why landlords aren’t doing what they should be doing. Stay in touch so those trapped in bad deals with slumlords know they don’t have to stand alone.
Co-producing similar event is part of what Bring Your Own has been doing since it was founded in 2012. In 2016, they co-produced events on worker justice, jobs and healthcare. Bring Your Own is a live storytelling pop-up series that takes intimate spaces within the New Orleans community. Each month, seven storytellers have seven minutes to respond to a theme. Stories are told live, unscripted, and true to the teller. Storytellers volunteer prior to the event and are judged by three audience members to determine a winner, whose story is guaranteed for radio production. Winners subsequently choose the next month’s theme. Bring Your Own is a production of Laine Kaplan-Levenson.
GNOFHAC is a nonprofit civil rights organization established in 1995 to eradicate housing discrimination. GNOFHAC’s work throughout Louisiana includes education, investigation and enforcement activities. GNOFHAC is dedicated to fighting housing discrimination because it is an illegal and divisive force that perpetuates poverty, segregation, ignorance, fear and hatred.
According to their website the Radical Arts and Healing Collective (RAHC) “officially” started in January 2016. At co-founding core member Ann-Meredith’s Upper 9th Ward home, they broke bread and drank spicy hot chocolate to begin dreaming, scheming and visioning an intersectional, intergenerational, multiracial arts and healing centered community space rooted in New Orleans, intended to serve the greater Gulf South and beyond to promote transformative and healing justice as well as self-determination through art as a tool to interrupt and transform deep roots of injustice.
By working together, these three organizations were able to use the art of storytelling, a little competition in a creative space making the message and learning about the housing conditions in New Orleans more impactful.
Note: GNOFHAC is part of a coalition, Healthy Homes Coalition, that has pushed for action on these issues. They have successfully gotten an ordinance introduced by the New Orleans city council. The Healthy Homes Ordinance is in process of being voted on at the writing of this piece.
For more information please contact Monika Gerhart-Hambrick, Director of Policy and Communications at GNOFHAC email@example.com
It started as a means to save water in drought-stricken Los Angeles, California. Last spring the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles came to the Theodore Payne Foundation searching for ways HACLA could save on their water bill and provide interesting environments if they planted native flora for their landscaping of public housing sites.
The Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants was established in 1960 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to the understanding, preservation and use of California native flora. The Foundation provides a full-service native plant nursery, seed room, book store, art gallery, demonstration gardens and hiking trails open to the public year round. The Foundation offers classes for adults and families, as well as field trips and classroom programs for children. More than 250 active volunteers are the backbone of the Foundation and its success in Southern California.
Image courtesy of the Theodore Payne Foundation
So no surprise that HACLA staff, with more than 160 acres of landscaping to manage, recognized that their goal could not be reached without some expertise and commitment. Their practical approach resulted in partnering with the Theodore Payne Foundation to train HACLA’s landscape crews in native plant horticulture and maintenance with three pilot projects. Now the Foundation is training more than 50 people and guiding the development of 1.6 acres of pilot gardens at Imperial Courts in Watts, Estrada Courts in Boyle Heights, and San Fernando gardens in Pacoima.
Working with the entire public housing landscaping staff and some residents from the three pilot sites, everyone joined tours of the nursery and demonstration gardens and included basic native plant horticulture and design, along with plant identification and selection. The final sessions of the six-month program, focuses on developing the skills to establish and maintain the new landscapes. Participants are excited both about saving water and learning new landscaping skills. Each pilot site is designing its own gardens, updating their irrigation system, and feeling the satisfaction of meeting new challenges.
Impressed by the success of the pilot program, HACLA invited Theodore Payne Foundation to design the garden at the Boys & Girls club of Mar Vista Gardens, creating a beautiful and enriching environment for the children and all Mar Vista Gardens residents.
Voices of Home is an on-line story sharing project of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition which aims to:
Empower those living in affordable housing to be leaders, through listening to and sharing resident stories,
Break down stigmas that may be held by the general public regarding those receiving or in need of housing assistance through community engagement and conversation,
Build community by engaging residents in a project outside their immediate living situation and supporting each other through the story-telling process, and
Bridge conversations between residents, policy makers, and community by changing the power dynamic so residents’ voices are heard and accounted for.
Voices of Home consists of interviews with residents living in housing with various public subsidies. The interviews are seen as a tool which the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition and its member organizations can use to advocate for policies benefiting affordable housing and efforts to end homelessness. The interviews are accessible on the Coalition’s blog and on radio and the stories have already reached a wide audience.
The theme is “home” and each interview provides unique and personal insights into why home is fundamental to our well-being. The stories shared through the interviews are embellished with statewide facts usually associated with policy making. VAHC intends to expand on this project through other mediums and community outreach, including a moving art show. To learn more about the project, visit their website here.
This is a clip from the interview with French Brandon, a resident of the Burlington Housing Authority’s Decker Towers in Burlington, VT. In this clip, French discusses the way that home shaped his early childhood, and uses vivid details to paint a brilliant picture of his life. When talking about home, French opines: “Home has been a very peculiar notion for me all my life. It’s sort of like something I’ve always sought after but never quite gotten to, like an ever receding will of the wisp, if you will. Or maybe a kind of perfection that one doesn’t ever achieve.”
Take this opportunity to subscribe to the Voices of Home email list in order to receive updates about the latest interviews. To learn more about Voices of Home, contact Corrine Marie Yonce: 803-660-9484.
By Mary Brooks, Senior Advisor, Center for Community Change–Housing Trust Fund Project