Eviction rates in the Southeast region exceed national levels. In spite of the ongoing Center for Disease Control’s Moratorium, renters in the Central Gulf Coast face harsh judges, federally funded corporate landlords, laws that favor landlords along with a lack of tenant unions in all but the largest cities.
Tenants in Florida are second highest at risk for evictions in the country. Hundreds of Florida renters have been evicted since the federal moratorium went into effect. In Florida’s Escambia County, refusing to heed the CDC moratorium, Judge Patricia Kinsey still hears eviction cases. The judge found a plaintiff, Sicliff, a subsidiary of a large Canadian corporation, which claimed the CDC moratorium represents an “unlawful taking” by forcing landlords to allow tenants to remain in units without paying. Florida has no state protection against eviction, leaving the CDC’s order as tenants’ only recourse.
NBC investigated and spoke to tenant Steve Cowley after he received an eviction notice and sat before Kinsey. Liberation News recently spoke with Cowley to check on his situation. NBC’s spotlight on Cowley’s story seems to have pressured the corporation to do what it takes to make the story “go away,” according to Cowley. The company has since worked out a payment plan with him that now allows him to remain in his home.
Eviction of those made homeless in Pensacola
In Pensacola, Florida, the crisis goes beyond the eviction of working class people from their homes. Those who are made homeless are sought out, harassed, and evicted from public areas by local agencies.
A park located under the I-110 overpass has recently become a “home” of last resort for approximately 50 people. Pensacola officials have a plan to “clean the park,” meaning that those who have camped there will be forcibly removed along with their belongings.
Not many months into the pandemic, Pensacola officials raided a smaller camp that has long been used by those who have nowhere else to go. Local advocates for the homeless have said that funding has been reduced, instead of being increased, during the pandemic, impacting the ability of housing organizations to aid those without shelter.
The funds are being redirected elsewhere: to corporate landlords. Canadian-based firm, Ventron Management, with properties in both Georgia and Florida, leads the pack in both the amount awarded and the number of evictions handed out. So far, Ventron has handed out 1017 eviction notices after taking a $3.5 million bailout in Federal COVID-19 funds. Meanwhile, working people have received less than the cost of an average month’s rent to cover their losses.
In another Gulf Coast state, Louisiana, landlords met the CDC moratorium with a legal challenge, arguing that it was beyond the scope of the CDC’s authority to issue the moratorium; Federal Judge Terry Doughty rejected their arguments. However, the CDC’s federal moratorium only allows protection against eviction based on nonpayment, but landlords can and are using almost any cause to evict tenants by issuing a Notice for Termination of Lease with only a 5-day notice for tenants to leave. The question remains as to how many tenants are packing up and vacating their homes prior to eviction notices being handed out. In Louisiana, even under normal circumstances, tenant-landlord laws allow evictions to be filed even one day after rent is due.
Mississippi simply never stopped handing out eviction notices. The city of Jackson in Mississippi added an average of three more eviction orders per day after the moratorium than it did in the months leading up to it.
Working class people in the Central Gulf Coast cannot rely on an insulting $1,400 stimulus check to find a way out of the housing crisis created by the capitalist government and the corporate landlords it protects. There is nothing left to do but fight back by building a mass movement that will demand the cancellation of rents and mortgages and stop evictions.
Ithaca, New York serves as an example for all, being the first in the country to win a battle for a piece of legislation that allows the city to request the power to forgive past due rents. This win was not handed out by politicians, but rather it took months of organizing and mobilizing the community by Ithaca Tenants Union and the Party for Socialism and Liberation under the banner of Cancel the Rents.
The PSL branch in the Central Gulf Coast is joining with many across the nation and in the region to build a movement for rent cancellation. If you live in the Central Gulf Coast area, future Cancel the Rents events can be found on the Facebook page Eviction Fightback. Join us.