By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — A notice to relocate is thwarting the healing process for Sheila Parker-Wilson, recovering from surgery and packing her belongings for the move she must make this summer from the apartment she has called home for seven years. The new owner of her apartment complex on East 35th Street sent the relocation notice to the 25 to 30 occupied households; the occupants have worked hard to maintain housing stability and now face the possibility of homelessness.
Coincidentally, the 100 or so households in another Davenport apartment complex, Crestwood Apartments, also must move because the owner failed to comply with city-mandated repair requirements, according to John DeTaeye of the advocacy organization “Davenport Bearing Witness.” In both crises, tenants are leading the call for fairness, justice and affordable housing.
In the June 30 notice to tenants of “The Row at 35th LLC” apartments, property owner Chris Salazar wrote: “As you may be aware, our company has recently purchased this apartment complex and we intend to make renovations across the entire property. This letter is to inform you that we do not intend to renew your current month-to-month lease.”
While the 30-day notice is legal, Parker-Wilson and other tenants found the news stressful, callous and financially daunting. She turned to DeTaeye, whom she had known because of her close ties with Humility of Mary Housing (now Humility Homes and Services), which provided her with transitional housing when she needed it.
Three years ago, her story of housing success appeared in The Catholic Messenger. She vowed during a press conference on affordable housing that she would never be homeless again. “We need affordable housing. We need somewhere to call home,” she said.
Last week, on July 7, Parker-Wilson, DeTaeye and Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, met at the church with Davenport Mayor Mike Matson and a city council member to discuss the city’s role in assisting the tenants. The following day, the tenants received a “Notice of Non-Renewal” stating that they must leave no later than Aug. 31.
The advocates also requested an in-person meeting with the new owner and immediate relocation funding of $5,000 for each displaced household. DeTaeye said those funds could come from the American Rescue Plan Act, Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds or a combination of funding from those programs and the new owner. “The funds will help ease the great anxiety of each household and assistance with all of the visible and hidden costs related to relocation,” DeTaeye said. He said requests to meet with tenants have not been answered. “The residents are considering paying their monthly rent to a third party to hold, until an agreement is reached with Mr. Salazar and the city.”
Father Juarez sees his role as mediator. “A basic question needs to be asked: Do we respect people? Are we able to respect the innate dignity of persons?” His main concern is the inequality that exists between people in power (property owners) and people who are powerless (tenants). “When the power/powerless dynamic kicks in, people are not treated as they should be treated. They are not afforded the dignity and respect they deserve.”
Landlords may have good intentions and they have expenses to meet, but they must also consider the situation of tenants living from paycheck to paycheck, Father Juarez said. He sees the mayor and city council as stakeholders in this housing crisis because it affects the city’s wellbeing regarding the availability, quality and safety of housing. “We have to ask, ‘What kind of community do we want to be?’”
Father Juarez cited Catholic Social Teaching and the mission of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to ensure that all people have a voice and that people on the peripheries of society have the opportunity to be agents of their own destiny.
“I want to be an ally with the tenants,” said Father Juarez, who sees the displacement of people on the margins as another form of violence because of its potential to cause homelessness and the suffering connected with that state of existence.
Social service organizations have entered the situation to help, but Parker-Wilson said the agencies want to work with the tenants as individuals. She believes their voices will be stronger as a group. Father Juarez says that charity is one thing. “If we do justice first, charity might not be necessary.”
Davenport Bearing Witness will do justice during a weekly vigil at 6 p.m., Tuesday nights, at 126 East 35th St. in solidarity with the East 35th Street and Crestwood Apartments neighbors. The next vigil is July 20. “We will pray, sing and organize as we oppose the displacement of hundreds of Davenport residents from their homes,” DeTaeye said.
Another step toward justice, DeTaeye said, is calling attention to and acting on the City of Davenport’s most recent Housing Needs Assessment. That document noted, “Homelessness is a serious problem across the entire country, and it is far more resource efficient to keep people housed, than to go through the eviction and re-housing process.”