Last week, the Nashville Scene published a story that brings to light a great injustice facing some of the most economically vulnerable and voiceless members of our community –– the problem of slumlords in low-income housing. This article highlights the tenants at Lexington Gardens Apartments in Madison, TN, who are being systematically taken advantage of by their landlady. They live with busted windows and doors, bed bug & cockroach infestations, substandard electrical wiring, sewage leaking from upstairs apartments, and the subsequent mold it trails across ceilings and walls. Although we have systems in place that were created to protect the rights of these tenants, like Metro Health/Codes Department, we find that again and again, these marginalized voices are dismissed by the very agencies intended to serve them because the needs and concerns of the community’s wealthier citizens take priority over the needs of those struggling in poverty.
“Why don’t they just move somewhere else?”
Well, that’s easier said than done. Let us imagine for a moment that our city had enough affordable housing available to shelter everyone in need –– even so, in Davidson County, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $751/mo*. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities, without being cost burdened (which means paying more than 30% of income on housing), a household must earn at least $30,040 annually or approximately $15.65/hr (assuming full-time work). In this time of economic depression, many low-income households are lucky to find part-time work in a minimum wage ($7.25/hr) service industry; to pay FMR for a two-bedroom apartment without being cost burdened, a minimum wage earner would have to work 86 hours per week.
As if earning enough to pay rent every month wasn’t hard enough, in order to relocate, tenants must have enough saved to pay the 1st month’s rent, a deposit, fees for turning on utilities, and the cost of actually moving (Consider: How do you move when you don’t own a car? How can you take time off from a minimum wage service job?) –– all of this assuming they have good credit and no criminal record. Often low-income households and the working poor move into slums because there are vacancies (high turnover) and no credit checks. They get trapped because our city lacks sufficient affordable housing and because living paycheck to paycheck does not afford the luxury of saving for a move up. Tenants in this situation are often a car breakdown or a week with the flu away from being homeless, and slumlords prey on this vulnerability.
These are the people society pushes to the margins for fear of being contaminated by poverty, but they are our brothers and sisters, and they need us to stand with them now as they assert their rights to live in safety, without fear of people breaking in because their doors and windows are busted –– without fear that their children are being feasted on by bed bugs while they sleep, or that they will be put on the streets by a landlady seeking revenge for their drawing attention to this injustice. Visit the website Lexington Gardens Revealed to see pictures of the living conditions these folks face everyday, read their stories, and learn more about what you can do to help make this right.
HOW TO HELP
Please join Amos House in standing in solidarity with the people of Lexington Gardens. Use your voice to advocate with them by calling Metro Codes Department. Below is the information from the website about how you can help:
Contact Nashville Metro Codes Hotline (615) 862-6590.
Or send a fax to (615) 862-6593.
Or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill Penn is the Assistant Director of the Property Standards Division. Bill supervises the Property Standards inspection staff and is the program manager for the NOTICE program, a community support program designed to provide direct involvement of citizens in the code enforcement process.
Please be polite. Express your concern that Lexington Gardens, 335 Forest Park Road, is not in compliance with Metro requirements for buildings to be in a good general state of repair and maintained in a clean, safe and sanitary condition. Request that Codes conduct a full inspection, including every unit on the property, and issue abatement notices for the prompt correction of every violation discovered.
If asked for details, you can say that Codes already has over 20 complaints that they can refer to, and tenants are reluctant to submit more complaints due to fear of retaliation.
*As determined by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development FY2012 Office of Management and Budget.