The cease and desist order issued by the City of Harvey was a huge wake-up call to tenants on 154th street that they were about to lose their homes. The tenants with the help of MTO began to organize. Their efforts led, not only to the order being rescinded, but to a meeting with city officials and a campaign to preserve their housing and improve their living conditions.
With the evictions stopped, the tenants association focused on the gross building code violations and problematic housing conditions affecting all of them. The building was in bad condition. Tenants complained about bedbugs, roaches, mice, systemic plumbing issues, an uneven porch and stairs, evidence of mold on walls and ceilings and wide-ranging apartment repair issues. After a month of meetings in the parking lot, MTO and tenant leaders engaged the City of Harvey public officials to find innovative ways to address this housing situation. After several strategy sessions between tenants and public officials – the group determined that it was time to meet with the owner and property manager to discuss solutions.
The meeting took place in late August. Prior to this meeting, building maintenance had become nonexistent. Conditions had deteriorated to such a degree the building was becoming dangerous and uninhabitable leaving it vulnerable to being condemned. During several hours of negotiations between MTO, tenants, City of Harvey public officials and the landlord; an agreement was reached. The agreement includes bringing out certified contractors to make an assessment and conduct inspections of units to gain a better idea of the overall repair and pest issues. The owner also agreed to waive all past due rent tenants had withheld for poor conditions. A timeline and a signed agreement were developed as a means to hold each side accountable. This represents a significant win for these renters and has been a strong first step into working in the county for MTO.
The tenants understand that the fight is not over. Now the tenants know they have power and understand the importance of organizing and building collaborations to address their housing concerns. They are confident that their hard work will pay off. The victory has raised tenants’ hopes and their self-respect.