DC Tenants Call on Susan Rice to Cancel the Rent
On Jan. 23nd, 2021, over 200 DC tenants and activists marched on the house of Susan Rice, head of the Domestic Policy Council, to demand that the federal government cancel the rent, keep everyone in their homes, and not subsidize slumlords. These excerpts from their speeches show the power and passion of the DMV-wide tenant movement.
1. My Name Is Roger
I am with the Tivoli Gardens Tenant Association. Our complex is in Ward 1. I am also a part of the Citywide Tenant Union.
Everyone who needs it should get rent relief. This means the undocumented, the unemployed, the underemployed, everyone. What happens to people who went into debt to pay their rent? What happens to people who are informally employed and who never even got the right forms from their employer? No one should lose their house ever. If eviction is a public health crisis, during a pandemic then eviction should be illegal, period.
The government should not be subsidizing slumlords. Rent relief should have conditions attached to it which would ensure that these landlords cannot raise the rent for well after the pandemic. Landlords are required to maintain safe and decent housing in order to keep literal funds. Landlords who do not maintain their properties in accordance with housing code requirements should be forced to give the federal money back, at no cost to their tenants.
2. My Name Is Karla
I am here with the Woodner Tenant Union and we are here today with one objective: to visit Susan Rice because we need her to take our message to Joe Biden because we are confident that this administration will listen to us more than the last administration. And I am here because I lost my job during this pandemic.
I am one of many people who work in the hospitality industry. At least half of my neighbors in the Woodner work in the hospitality industry. We are asking at the local level and the federal level for there to be rent cancellation. As the Woodner Tenants Union, we are showing up for our neighbors. We are distributing food to the people who need it. We are distributing necessary products to the people who need them and we need this assistance to continue not only at the neighborhood level but also at the federal level.
3. My Name Is Jewel
First I would like to give honor to God and thank him for this day. I’m a tenant at Park 7 Apartments located in Ward 7. I am here on behalf of myself and everyone that you see here today, and all of the people that live in my building and in my Ward that were not able to come today or were afraid to come today. We come here today in peace and we come here humbly asking that the United States government find it in its heart to cancel the rent on behalf of all Americans.
When I look around,I see all of the people that are here today that gave up their Saturday to come out to stand up for a cause that we all believe in our hearts is our human right—to have a place to live without feeling like we’re in jeopardy of being put out in the streets because we are forced out of work.
I have been out of work for eight months—furloughed due to the pandemic. The mayor decided to do a budget cut and I was one of the workers put out. Even those that are still working are overworked and underpaid. It is our human right to have food. It is our human right to have shelter. No one should be deprived of food. No one should be deprived of shelter.
When I was a little girl I had to share a room with my sister, and my mom used to make us clean up our room. We found a quick way to do it by pushing all the things under the bed and pushing everything in the closet. My mom was wise enough to come in and check, and she would find out that we didn’t do it properly. She would check under the bed, she would check in the closet. And then she would come in and make us do it the right way. I share that story with everyone because I want the government to know that they have to stop pushing all the things under the bed and in the closet.
It’s time for them to stand up and do what is right. It’s time for them to use their power and use their administration to help all American people. It doesn’t matter what is your nationality, it doesn’t matter what is your race, it doesn’t matter if you’re young, it doesn’t matter if you’re old, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich, we’re all here on God’s Earth and we all deserve to have the things we need in our lives to live and survive.
The politicians always say “God bless America.” Well, if God is going to bless America, then he has to use the people. And if you’re going to say God bless America, allow yourself to be a vessel so that you can help your neighbors, help people that are less fortunate, help people that are undereducated, help people who need help so that we all can live in a better, peaceful world.
4. My Name Is Fantahun
We are from the Somerset neighborhood of Washington, DC, and we welcome you back to Washington and to the Biden administration. We hope that you will work with us much better than the previous administration. We are here to let you know that we are struggling in this economy, and we want policy to help us support our families. Other than the pandemic we have several issues with the landlords and the city government. Our problems and our presence here is to voice all of the concern in our lives and hope you can help us in every way that you can. I would like to thank our great [organizers], Mike and Sophie. We appreciate you and really thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We’ll be with you and keep on organizing. Finally, Ms. Rice if you’re home, please come out and say “I hear you, and I’ll do whatever I can.” God bless America.
5. My Name Is Henry
Good afternoon everybody.I’m from the LaSalle Park Tenants Association in Prince George’s County, Maryland, owned and managed by J. Alexander. We started organizing in October after we saw one of our neighbor’s stuff all out on the lawn. It had rained for three days and this guy’s whole life was just out on the lawn. So we started talking to our neighbors, we started to realize how big the problem was. Some people are over $10,000 in debt. Other people are struggling to put food on the table. And they’re desperate.
We started getting together. We started doing food distribution. The other day I actually delivered food to a neighbor of mine who was a neighbor of the guy who got evicted. He said, “well, you know, I actually saw him the other day.” I said, “how’s he doing?” He said, “he’s collecting cans on the street. I saw him at the bus stop. He doesn’t look too good.”
First I just want to pray for that man, because of this unfair treatment he’s gotten. We’re here because we want to make sure that doesn’t happen to anybody. All this time the tenants are stressing out, J. Alexander has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program loans. They’ve been harassing our tenants with eviction since October, and we don’t think that’s fair. That’s why we’re here today. The Biden administration has made some wonderful promises, and we should all be encouraged by that. We hope this administration will listen to us.
I opened my bible the other day to Luke chapter 20. And Jesus, as he was teaching he said: “beware the scribes that wear long robes, that want the highest place in the synagogue, and that want the best seat at the feast. Who devour widows’ houses and make a show of long prayers.” Words are not enough. We need action. And that’s why we’re here!
We’re here because none of us is the master of someone else’s life. None of us gets to say who has a house and who doesn’t. We want to ask the Biden administration to work with us to make sure that nobody can be a master over anybody’s life. We’re here together, we all deserve a house, and we all deserve fair treatment. Thank you all for all your work, and let’s keep fighting.
6. My Name Is Estela
I live in 2801 15th St NW. I’m here out in the cold with my kid because the conditions sometimes make me do things that I don’t want to have to do. We have a right to live well and in good conditions. We want for you to cancel the rent!
I have a 1-year-old too. It’s really hard to know that I don’t have money to pay rent or for food for my kids. The owners of these buildings, they’ve received millions of dollars which they don’t deserve. They have raised my rent two times during this pandemic. In my building people have died from coronavirus. And the owners of the building haven’t even come to clean the building for us. As a mother, you might understand what we’re going through. What we want is for you to hear us and for you to understand in your heart that what we want is for you to cancel the rent and make the conditions of our housing better.
Not only have they raised the rent twice, but they have also broken the law by evicting innocent people who didn’t have a way to pay. In my building, there are too many rats. There are cockroaches. There are bedbugs. And yet the management doesn’t even lift a finger to try to make the conditions better. [Speaker continues through tears] It really hurts to see what we’re going through, and you’re one of the only people that can help us. Not just for DC tenants, but also for Maryland and Virginia tenants, because we’re here from all around the area. It hurts me to know that people have even been bitten by the rats in our building…
We’ve been going through this for a long time, and it’s time for things to change. There’s a God that sees everything and oversees what’s happening here. I hope that you will see this too and help us to get out of this pandemic safe and sound because there are people who are in hospitals and haven’t made it out okay. That’s what we are asking of you: to cancel the rent completely.
7. My Name Is Yajaira
I live on New Hampshire and First. We have come here to demand to cancel the
rent! I work at a financial institution, and I see how it is easy for small businesses to receive
money—including our landlord. But yet we are out here struggling, making ends meet. Many of
my neighbors do not qualify for rent relief. Many of them are ineligible and did not receive any kind of governmental help. What about them? What about our kids? We come to you because you are empowered to make these changes for your people.
8. My Name Is Barbara
I’m from Southeast Washington, DC. And I’m here to ask you, Ms. Rice, to cancel the rent. Y’all talk a good game, but you don’t walk a good walk. You know talk is cheap. You know, you say that you care about the people. Black lives matter. It’s not about being black, it’s not about being white, it’s about being people.
Ms. Rice, I’m so glad your children are grown. They don’t have to go through this like our children have to go through this. Tell Jake I said hi, ask him how he’s doing. Tell your daughter I say hi, and ask her how she’s doing. We’re living in places where there’s rats and roaches. And you expect us to pay rent? Honestly Ms. Rice, I’m mad as hell. I’m mad. I don’t know about nobody else. I’m speaking for me. My feet are cold. My hands are cold. I want to be home in my own house just like you. But I can’t because I’m fighting for you to cancel the rent.
And you know what else? You’re giving the money to all the wrong people. The money needs to come to us. $600 stimulus check, some get it, some don’t. But if we all don’t pay rent, we all get evicted. Then what you gonna do? We gonna live in tents? We gonna be homeless with our babies? Put yourself in our place, how would you feel?
I hope when you lay down tonight that God can fix your heart, that God can fix your soul. Don’t talk about love, be about love. I heard that you got a book, that it was called “Tough Love.” Fight for what you believe in. We all have things that we believe in, don’t we? Fight with us, not against us.
[Chanting] No jobs, no rent! No jobs, no rent! No jobs, no rent! No food, no rent! No medicine, no rent!
How do you expect us to live if you don’t help us? You need to help the people. Don’t talk about it, be about it. I’m angry. I’m seriously angry. Because all of y’all, the rich get richer, and the poor be poorer. Y’all got these small businesses y’all giving money too. If it wasn’t for us going in them little stores, they wouldn’t have a business. Y’all giving the landlords money, and they want our money too. But I can’t even sit at my table and eat without a roach crawling up on it. You think I want to eat roaches?
I hope and I pray, because one thing that God can answer, he sits high and he looks low. The same way you come up, the same way you come up, you can come down. I know that you are the same age I am. You was born the same year I was born—1964, knocking at your door. My thing is, we gotta help people. We really gotta help people. You got a lady out here crying for her babies. We got our babies out here. We risking our lives dealing with the pandemic, to fight for what we believe in.
And this is the last thing that I gotta say to you. God is gonna convict your heart. If you got any love in your soul that you claim you have, then your conscience should be working right now, as I speak. In the name of Jesus.