We are on the verge of a potential housing crisis here in the city of Memphis.
For the past ten months the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center has been in communication and offering assistance to our members who are tenants of the Warren Apartments and Serenity Towers, both site based section-8 apartment complexes owned by Rev. Richard Hamlet of the Memphis based Global Ministries Foundation and subsidized by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
What we saw there in these complexes disturbed and appalled us as an entire community: bedbugs, sewage backup, faulty electrical work, widespread mold and even structural damage to floors and ceilings. Not only was this done with public funds and tax incentives but worse still, it was done under the guise of ministry and in the name of GOD.
The cries of the residents and our suspicions were vindicated two weeks ago when HUD officials notified Rev. Richard Hamlet that his nonprofit, Global Ministries Foundation, failed to correct violations “to the satisfaction of the Secretary within 60 days” for the Warren and Tulane apartment complexes, and that tenants will have to relocate. The letter from HUD also ended subsidies provided to the apartments.
MSPJC worked with brave tenants like Cynthia Crawford and Jessica Johnson Peterson and others in starting an organizing committee to form a tenant association for residents of the Warren Apartments. We provided assistance, support and aided in research to help them plan and implement their strategy. As there currently is no organization in Memphis that helps organize tenants into associations or engages in grassroots organizing around renters rights, brave folks like Jessica and Cynthia take great risk standing up for their rights and they need more support than is often available.
MSPJC is working to take this on as part of our mission and we will be reaching out to other tenants in other properties to work with them to have real and independent tenant associations to fight for their rights via our new RENTER’S RIGHTS PROJECT.
We are currently meeting with residents at Serenity Towers to do the same and aided them in their desire for full code inspections of that property, which were held last week. These issues at Warren, Tulane, Serenity Towers, Goodwill Villages, Peppertree, Bend Tree and many others are the results of decades of systemic neglect on the part of landlords and also the apparatus which is supposed to be providing proper oversight and vetting of these property owners and managers. It will take a comprehensive approach led by those most affected by the issue to enact real and lasting positive change. Later this year we are reorganizing internally in order to devote resources to assist residents and tenants in HUD subsidized housing that struggle and in the years to come comprehensively working with these new tenants associations to address renters rights for all in our community. Access to quality, affordable and accessible housing in Memphis is the largest unaddressed civil rights issue in Memphis, particularly with people with disabilities.
What we hope to accomplish here is to engage in renter’s rights and training workshops on how tenants can form their own tenant associations to engage in the process and networking these new organizations into the eventual goal of creating a MEMPHIS TENANTS UNION to fight for renter’s rights across this city.
As for Warren, ultimately we hope that the City of Memphis will create a Public/Private entity that could acquire ownership of Warren and Tulane to provide proper maintenance and operations with local control and local oversight.
To be frank, for the most part, the privatized model of funding landlords with SITE BASED HUD funding recreated all of the negatives of public housing without any of the positives and with less oversight and accountability. As far as subsidized housing goes “Landlords” and the profit motive that is inherent in being a landlord is part of the core of the problem as corners get cut to ensure profit above everything else. Honestly, we all have to ask: What did we expect to happen? Now our collective chickens have come home to roost.
The relocation of residents at Warren and Tulane if not properly handled could lead to a massive crisis in housing here in Memphis. We are glad that vouchers are being provided and that moving assistance is being provided but without utility deposit assistance can create serious barriers with a lot of families getting service from MLGW which will severely limit their alternative housing options, this combined with the relocation of residents from Foote Homes around the same time may cause bottlenecks in the system and result in residents simply being reconcentrated into other low income neighborhoods and in places only nominally better, which could put Memphis in jeopardy of being in violation of the FAIR HOUSING ACT.
If these things are not done we could be on the verge of a major crisis. In our view, we want HUD to approve an emergency increase in the value of the voucher in order to broaden the options of tenants and landlords alike and we absolutely need the city, via MLGW and MHA, to be intimately involved in this process and make sure the relocation is done in a careful and smart way. If repairs can be made to allow the bulk of the moves to happen in the summer it will also be easier on the children who will be changing schools. This potential crisis is the direct consequence of not only willful neglect in the maintenance and management of these properties by Global Ministries, but also the lack of proper oversight by THDA and HUD and other regulatory agencies that allowed things to get so bad. We urge our leaders to get involved now on the front end to ensure a smooth transition.
This will affect thousands of families and they will need this community and this organization to stand with them in this and this organization needs you.
We are not funded by any grants or donors to fund this work but for the last 10 months have moved forward to respond to the calls for help from our brothers and sisters in this the defining civil rights issue of our time in Memphis. As you have supported us in the past, we again ask for your help now so that we can continue this work.
An anonymous donor has offered a 100% match any funds raised by MSPJC from now to March 15th. This new source of funding will enable our solidarity work with tenants to continue and grow…but none of that is possible without you.
We do so hope that we can count on your continued support either as a one-time donation or to become a MSPJC sustaining donor.
Bradley Watkins is the Executive Director at Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.