Eastside rallies for housing justice center tenant’s rights

by Winston Moore

The Indianapolis branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation held a speak-out on tenants’ rights at the corner of Arlington Avenue and 12th Street on Friday, Jan. 21. The speak-out was the opening event for a neighborhood campaign focused on bringing the community together to fight back against abusive landlords.

Everland Wells, an organizer with the PSL and a local community member, spoke about the experience of coming home to “unwanted guests” – infestations of cockroaches, rodents, and silverfish.

“The East 12th St duplexes that I live in were built in the 70s to put poor, working-class, typically African American families into cramped cardboard box homes,” Wells said. “If you’re having issues breathing because of unrecognized black mold, or issues with sewage; these are also problems of neglect that my neighbors have shared.”

Wells and her community are not alone in Indianapolis. The Indy Star has continually reported on the negligent and abusive practices of local landlords. Takila Walker, a tenant at Washington Pointe Apartments, experienced mold and water damage from 2016 to 2022 that caused her to develop bronchitis. Her landlord refused to address these issues, allowing them to get so bad that she could no longer sleep in her own bedroom. When she reported the presence of mold to the health department, her landlord retaliated with an eviction order rather than fixing the problems.

According to a 2016 study, Indiana has much higher eviction and filing rates than the rest of the U.S. The same study observed that the most common reason for eviction was for nonpayment of rent, an action taken by tenants when landlords fail to maintain reasonable standards of living. Yet the study also points out that non-paying tenants are subject to eviction regardless of the reason for their nonpayment. Under Indiana’s landlord-friendly laws, tenants have little to no recourse when dealing with negligent landlords, and are ill-equipped to protect themselves from eviction.

Eli Morey, another member of the PSL, reiterated the rights of tenants against their landlords. “Landlords must give tenants a rental unit in a safe, clean, and livable condition, and comply with health and housing codes,” Morey said. I know for a fact that there are landlords out here all across the east side and across town violating these rights.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, now going into its third year, has deeply exacerbated the struggles confronting renters in Indianapolis. For the working class, housing security seems farther away than ever. The end of the CDC’s national eviction moratorium in Oct. 2021 hit families hard, leading to a resurgence in the number of eviction orders back to historical levels.

Despite the moratorium, a number of Marion County courts allowed filings to go through under various legal technicalities throughout the worst of the pandemic. Once the moratorium officially ended, eviction filings jumped from on average 400 to 600 filings per week. If it weren’t already clear enough that the state of Indiana is on the side of the landlords, by August 2021, the state had delivered only $30 million of the roughly $372 million in Federal rent relief funding available. That’s less than 10% of available relief distributed more than a year and a half into the pandemic. 

Tenant families are still struggling to survive under the brutal and crushing weight of rent while living in homes that suffer from disrepair and neglect by the landlords themselves. The state will continue to serve landlords’ interests over the interests of their tenants, unless we force them to do otherwise. Without unity and solidarity with one another, and without the will to act collectively, tenants will continue to experience suffering under unethical business practices directed at them as individuals. It is only through mass action and collective organizing that we will bring pressure to bear against the landlord class. 

PSL member Derek Ford said that the speak-out was just the beginning, and that the movement would require bringing together different segments of the working class. “We’re going to continue to come back,” Ford said. “Not only to canvass, but to continue to have these speak-outs, to make them bigger, to move them around the area. We hope you join us for that.”

Only through solidarity will working-class communities be able to prevent unethical landlords from exploiting the basic need for housing in order to line their own pockets. The community at Arlington and 12th, together with the working class across Indianapolis, will continue to take meaningful steps toward housing justice and the end of homelessness. Such an objective is more than achievable, so long as the people are willing to fight for it.