On Nov. 19 members of the Rochester City-Wide Tenant Union (RCTU) held a press conference calling for Mayor Lovely Warren and other local elected officials to issue a local eviction moratorium for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Organizers were gathered outside of 405 Brown St. where Chris Green, a father of two daughters, is currently fighting an eviction from his home of four years.
According to organizers, the current state-wide eviction moratorium and the Tenant Safe Harbor Act left Rochesterians facing the threat of eviction. The RCTU is seeking a local moratorium to counter this threat. “Albany has done it. And we’re asking Lovely Warren to do the same for Rochester,” Rochester Housing Alliance volunteer Anastajah Haynes said to reporters. “The mayor needs to do this. She has the power to extend this executive order.” To not use her power would be “violence,” Haynes said.
A crowd of roughly 21 people in winter jackets were convened in front of Green’s apartment — a building with a crumbling first floor visible through storefront windows.
According to Green, both he and his daughters have been injured in the apartment, and are still facing eviction despite offering to pay rent.
“You see one broken window, but there’s seven broken windows, broken doors, rodents and such. The ceiling fell down a couple of times, on me, to be exact,” Green said. “My daughter cut her finger more than once on windows that were supposed to be fixed a year ago, and they still haven’t been fixed.”
Green said the only time he saw the landlord was in court or when someone broke one of the cars in the attached lot. “The only reason why we would be behind [on rent] is because every time we tried to offer him money, he would walk away or he won’t respond to our calls or anything like that,” he said.
For Green, his experience mirrors what many people are going through. “This is happening throughout the community,” he said. “They want to hush us but we ain’t gonna hush. We’re not going to move. We’re not going to budge.”
Organizers were critical of the timing of the evictions given the looming pandemic. “Almost half of the city — almost half of this country — have had difficulty paying rent in the last year,” protestor Remi Dobbs told the reporters present. “And obviously in the middle of a pandemic, as winter sets in, we should not be evicting people.”
Organizers are also seeking action from the state assembly. The RCTU has advocated for three bills that were recently introduced to the state assembly. The three bills would cancel rent, prohibit evictions while NY is in a state of emergency, and provide new pathways to house the homeless.
Demond Meeks, a newly elected assemblyman, took the mic to share some words about the importance of the RCTU. “We know that housing instability and homelessness also led to worse health care outcomes. So with that being said, you [the community] have to do this in order to take care of one another [and] in order to take care of our health as well.”
Many have also failed to get help from the city in times of need. Lead RCTU tenant organizer Barbera Rivera said that the Section 8 workers would sometimes suggest for citizens to simply give up looking for housing and to go to a shelter instead — an option unavailable to many others, including Rivera.
“I’m a mother of two kids; the last thing I want to hear is that I’m [going to] have to pack up my home where we felt safe and comfortable with all this nonsense and to be placed into a shelter with this much space [holding 2 fingers about an inch apart] and a cot,” Rivera said.
When asked further about the effects that these evictions have had on the city, Rivera said “I’m fearing for our community. We hear a lot of people reaching out to us like, ‘I have no idea what I’m going to do. There’s no money for me to do anything.’”
“This fight doesn’t stop. It’s going to continue until Chris and his family are in a better place,” Rivera said to conclude the press conference. “And this goes for any tenant who is dealing with an eviction. The tenant union and the alliance themselves are prepared to be there for you. You just call us and let us know.”
She also provided the group’s phone number — 585-210-0705 — and said people who are interested in donating can do so at @ROCtenetunion.