An open letter concerning mass evictions to the Housing and Gentrification Subcommittee of the Mayor’s Commission on Racial Justice and Equality, emailed this morning, August 21:
Dear members of the Housing and Gentrification Subcommittee,
We understand that you are now developing your recommendations to the Mayor. As you do so, eviction court is on the verge of executing mass evictions. Next Monday, August 24, 51 people are scheduled to face eviction in court. In the following two weeks, around 300 people face eviction.
As Taylor Shelton wrote in 2017 for the Lexington Fair Housing Council, “residents of Lexington’s predominantly low-income black and Latino neighborhoods are evicted at over twice the rate for all Lexingtonians.” Meanwhile, “renters in Lexington’s more affluent and predominantly white neighborhoods are evicted just one-sixth as often as the average Lexington resident.” (Page 8: https://lexingtonfairhousing.com/locked-out/)
Given this disparity, evictions are a systemically racist and specifically anti-Black practice in Lexington. The coming wave of evictions may become the largest in the city’s history. Mass numbers of Black and Latinx families will be forced out of their homes in the coming months.
The Mayor’s Commission on Racial Justice and Equality is tasked with “identifying both the systemic and systematic practices of racism which has fostered structural inequalities, challenges, and deficiencies in Lexington-Fayette County.” After identifying racist practices, you are to “recommend and advocate the systemic changes that will protect and promote racial opportunity, diversity, equity, and unity.” (https://www.lexingtonky.gov/commission-racial-justice-and…)
Evictions are systematically racist. It is incumbent on you as a subcommittee to advocate that the Mayor do everything in the city government’s power to, in the short-run, reduce the impact of the current wave of evictions, and, in the long-run, create a housing system where mass displacement events of Black and Latinx communities never occur.
The best way to end the coming wave of evictions is to cancel rent and mortgages. While Mayor Gorton may not have that power, Governor Beshear does–and Mayor Gorton’s voice matters to the Governor. The Housing and Gentrification Subcommittee should recommend that Mayor Gorton publicly and privately advocate that Governor Beshear cancel all rent and mortgage debt accrued since March 1 and cancel all rent and mortgage payments for the remainder of the State of Emergency plus one year. (See an op-ed we co-authored in the Courier-Journal on May 1 for an explanation of why Governor Beshear should cancel rent and mortgages: https://www.courier-journal.com/…/coronavir…/3053068001/.)
Additionally, the Housing and Gentrification Subcommittee should recommend that Mayor Gorton and the Urban County Council take bold actions now to reshape Lexington’s housing system so evictions are far more rare and permanently affordable housing far more common, while also protecting tenants from eviction and mistreatment now.
- Specifically, the Housing and Gentrification Subcommittee should recommend that Mayor Gorton and the Urban County Council:
- Increase funding for the Affordable Housing Fund and change Affordable Housing Fund policies to end homelessness and promote social housing in Lexington. Specifically:
- Allocate $50m to the Affordable Housing Fund this fiscal year and every year until every Lexington resident has access to safe, accessible, permanently affordable, sustainable housing. Funds should be reallocated from police and jail budgets.
- Allocate all Affordable Housing Fund money to projects for homeless people and residents earning 30% Area Median Income (AMI) or less until there is no homelessness in Lexington and everyone earning 30% AMI or less has access to safe, accessible, permanently affordable, sustainable housing.
- Allocate all Affordable Housing Fund money to social housing–that is, housing that is decommodified, resident controlled, and pro-social. (For a brief introduction to social housing, see https://www.cssny.org/news/entry/social-housing-in-the-us.)
- Enact a just rental assistance program that protects tenants in the long-run. Specifically, place conditions on all rental assistance such that any landlord receiving rental assistance from the city must:
- Enact an eviction moratorium (i.e., commit to neither filing nor executing any evictions) for all their tenants (not just the ones for whom they receive rental assistance) for the duration of the state of emergency in Kentucky plus one year after it ends.
- Enact good cause eviction protections for all their tenants (not just the ones for whom they receive rental assistance) until the end of 2023.
- Freeze rent at current levels for all their tenants (not just the ones for whom they receive rental assistance) until the end of 2023.
- Enact a ban on sweeps of homeless encampments on public land for the duration of the state of emergency in Kentucky plus one year after it ends.
Social housing, being permanently affordable and resident-controlled, significantly reduces the frequency of evictions. Fully funding the Affordable Housing Fund to build social housing for the people who need it most will ensure that the constant crisis of eviction in Black and Latinx communities in Lexington is all but stopped in the long-run. Requiring landlords who receive rental assistance to implement tenant protections during the current wave of evictions will reduce how many people lose their homes in the next few years. And banning sweeps of homeless encampments protects those who lose their homes during the wave of evictions.
Without bold action, we are about to see a historically racist and unjust wave of evictions. As the subcommittee tasked by the Mayor to “dismantle systemic racism” in housing, it is your job to stop it (https://www.lexingtonky.gov/commission-racial-justice-and…). Peoples’ homes, lives, and community depend on it.
Lexington Housing Justice Collective