When Women Lead

        On a stuffy summer evening when thunderstorm was lurking behind the cloud, Emma came knocking on my door. She was shaking all over. Before she spoke, a great sob escaped her; she covered her face with her shaky hands, and said, “We are evicted. I thought this would be my permanent home.”

        Emma was my childhood friend. We became acquainted when my family moved to her neighborhood in 2003. My mother often asked me to bring her cookies on my way to school. They had lived at their house for more than a decade before their sudden eviction. According to her, her parents bought the house around 2000. Yet, they were still ordered to leave and there was no guarantee that they would be compensated for the fair market value of the house. 

        Emma’s father was a veteran. He was forced to retire in his early 40s because of his health conditions. I saw him a couple of times in our neighborhood. He was a stout man with grey hair, puffy cheeks, and always looked like he was having difficulty breathing. Although her parents were neither officially separated nor divorced, Emma only grew up with her mother because her father was stationed in another state when she was young and he could only visit her during holidays. Her mother practically brought her up as a single mom.

        I told Emma not to worry. I invited her in and said I would help her pack her belongings and find temporary housing. I would also look for attorneys myself to see if she and her family could stay at their house.

        But Emma’s family didn’t want to find an attorney. It would be too costly for them. They just wanted the eviction process over with and move on. They couldn’t afford to spend a lot of time in the courtroom defending their right to stay. Her parents had to work double shifts to put food on the table.

        It was hard to find appropriate housing on such short notice. I called several leasing agents to find apartments that would fit their budget. However, because they had to move immediately and their budget was small, they eventually chose the cheapest apartment and started packing. The apartment itself was horrible. It has no AC in 95 degrees summer or hot water; the walls are so thin that one could practically hear people gambling at midnight next door. Still, Emma and her family stayed because “a roof over head is better than none.”

        Emma and her family had a right to attorney. They did not exercise their right because they could not afford to do so. Had they hired an attorney and demanded a trial, they could demand the landlord reasons for evictions. They would be able to collect evidence for their case. They would be able to discuss the mold in their apartment, the leaking bathtub, the broken window, and the fact that the landlord had failed to keep up on repairs. All these reasons could’ve kept them on the premise. 

        I had not entered law school at that time. I could not represent them. I could only sympathize with them, but my sympathies would not keep them at home. In situations like this, we need government to use its resources to provide legal representation for tenants facing evictions. I felt helplessness and incompetent. 

        Keeping that emotion in mind, I enrolled in law school. I’m interning for Georgia Appleseed’s Healthy Housing Project this summer to help keep families like Emma’s at home so I would never be ineffective again. The Project engages with tenants directly, convenes a statewide Healthy Housing Coalition, advocates for legislative action to protect low-income tenants, and supports collaborative social innovation labs that develop and implement local solutions. It also increases access for low-income children and their families to safe, healthy housing. I hope my work will promote legislative action which will help keep low-income families at home. 





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