It’s just not fair. Sometimes I get so mad.
There are so many times I’ve seen injustice up close since I began working with refugees. There are things that happen to the working poor that those of us who are middle-class never face. Their landlords treat them in ways my landlords have never treated me.
Our church and two other churches have been renting an apartment for three years now that we’ve used as a community outreach center to the many refugees living in this particular apartment complex. We’ve had homework help and Hill Triber meetings and potlucks and parties. It’s been a great space, even if it’s a tiny 1-bedroom apartment.
We’ve had silly, sad, scared, sweet, sacred moments together in those rooms.
We’re moving out, closing up shop, in June. We’re glad because it’s time to move on–many of our refugee friends are living in different apartments in Austin or have moved to other cities. We’re sorry to see this time come to an end.
But one thing I remain is angry.
In the time we’ve been renting this space, we’ve had the tiniest taste of what it is like to work with property managers and landlords in low-cost apartments. We’ve also helped our friends in apartments across the city–though management styles vary widely, many of the stories remain the same.
We’ve been lied too, blatantly, against all facts and reason.
We’ve seen slow responses that were devastating on important issues, like bed bugs and drug-dealing neighbors and water that was leaking down the living room wall like a grotesque waterfall.
We’ve had the same window kicked out or broken into six times in one year. Right now it’s covered in a trash bag and duct tape and has been for four weeks.
We’ve seen refugees huddled around a single heater in record-breaking freezes because the super couldn’t be bothered to fix their thermostat. For 9 days.
We’ve seen children playing outside in parking lots filled with broken glass.
We’ve seen corridors that were pitch black at dusk because the drug dealers didn’t want anyone to see who was coming and going or because the landlords couldn’t be bothered to put new lightbulbs in the external lights. Any of them. In the whole building.
Right now, several of our friends are in a building where the gas was turned off and hasn’t been turned back on again in over a week. They’re taking cold showers. I have no idea how they’re cooking food. None of them ever eat out.
The landlord who owned their apartment complex sold just one of the buildings to a new company who has barely been in touch. No one knew where to pay their rent or how to get things fixed. When they asked at the apartment office (the one they’d been paying rent to since they moved in), they were told to “google it.” We’ve been trying–we finally found someone, the same person who turned the gas off last week.
Theoretically they’re going to come tomorrow to turn it on. And maybe they’ll fix the lights and the windows. But it’s been week after week of unsafe, inhumane living conditions and frankly, I’m tired of it.
We’re googling, all right, property rights and the owner’s name. We’re on this, my friends. Sometimes we look at the injustices that are brought about only because of poverty and we feel so overwhelmed we can’t do anything. But we sure can figure out why the heck there’s no gas.
This is our new motto:
*My friend Constance tweeted me this image last night and I love it.
I might not be able to up and move to Kenya to work for International Justice Mission like some awesome people I know. But I can at least assist said awesome person as she looks into the background of this situation. Kelsi’s been on the ground, kicking bootie and taking names this week. Constance has been the go-to girl for the whole situation. And if you remember Kelsi’s and Constance’s posts about poverty, you know they practice what they preach.
I’m not sure how much help I’m going to be, but I’m mad enough to start making calls. Better watch out.
We’re going to stick it to these slumlords, y’all.
(Or just call them nicely to ask them what the deal is.)
***Updated to add: It was an amazing day. I did confront the new property manager and what happened next floored me. We’re going to be watching it over the weekend. Come back on Monday for the rest of the story.***