As the Delta variant continues to surge across the United States, so too has the housing and eviction crisis, with more than 11 million households now behind on rent. Most of those evicted are Black or Latinx, and the majority are single women with children. We speak with a single mother and a high school student who have faced eviction and went to Washington, D.C., this week to help Congressmember Cori Bush and Senator Elizabeth Warren introduce the Keeping Renters Safe Act to reinstate the federal pandemic eviction moratorium. “We need the eviction moratorium and the National Tenant Bill of Rights,” says Vivian Smith, a tenant activist with the Miami Workers Center. We also speak with Faith Plank, a 17-year-old housing activist in Morehead, Kentucky, who was evicted in March and says she has felt “the pain of that eviction” every day since. “I can’t focus on school when I’m worried about how I’m going to go to bed tonight,” says Plank.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: As the Delta variant continues to surge across the United States, so too has the housing and eviction crisis. More than 11 million U.S. households are now behind on rent, and studies show about 80% of those being evicted are Black or Latinx, the majority single women with children.
Despite data linking evictions to a rise in COVID-19 cases and deaths, the Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s temporary extension of eviction bans last month. This week, Congressmember Cori Bush and Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the Keeping Renters Safe Act to reinstate the federal pandemic eviction moratorium and give Health and Human Services permanent authority to enact an eviction ban during public health crises. The bill was unveiled at an anti-eviction rally Tuesday outside Congress led by a delegation of 11 tenants from across the United States who have been evicted or are facing eviction and mounting rental debt. This is Vivian Smith with the Miami Workers Center.
VIVIAN SMITH: I’ve been forced to choose between food, rent too many times. Many of us had to make the choice or the choices between our health or our homes. The rent eat first.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: That ain’t right!
AMY GOODMAN: Vivian Smith and the tenant justice delegation met with congressmembers and the Biden administration in D.C. this week. Vivian Smith joins us now from Miami, a single mom who’s faced eviction with her children, a leader with the Miami Workers Center. And another member of the tenant delegation joins us from Morehead, Kentucky. Faith Plank is 17 years old, a high school student who faced eviction in March along with her mom and younger sister.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Vivian. We just watched you at that rally. Can you talk about what’s happened to you and the significance of Congress passing a bill to reinstate the eviction moratorium?
VIVIAN SMITH: Good morning.
What happened to me was I got evicted, trying to pay my rent and see about my kids’ eating, health. And I was invited on a trip with me and other tenants all across the world. We came with one purpose and to make it be clear and known that we need the eviction moratorium and the National Tenant Bill of Rights action put in place, so that tenants like me and my tenants that was from all over the walks of different states came together, so that Congress, Bush can join us as enforcing that we need this eviction moratorium, for real tenants like me and my colleagues that joined me on the D.C. trip, to be in effect. You know, we are the people that living it, and we are the people that going through it.
AMY GOODMAN: Vivian, at the start of the pandemic, you said you had to quit your job at an Amazon warehouse to avoid getting COVID. How has the pandemic worsened the eviction crisis, especially where you are, in Florida and in Miami, which you call a city of renters? Talk about your decision to leave Amazon.
VIVIAN SMITH: My decision was to better for my health. At the time, the warehouse was getting very infested with the virus. And I chose to just stay home, because I didn’t want to endanger my kids’ health with that. So, from staying home, I fell behind in my rent. And I knew that, OK, I have to go back, even if it means risk my health, risk my kids’ health. So, I did go back to work to come up with the money.
And once I came up with the money to go to the rent office, to the landlord, now to present the money, and found that I was put in eviction. And that really took me to a whole ’nother space and a whole ’nother living another nightmare of not wanting to go back to my car.
AMY GOODMAN: So, then what happened?
VIVIAN SMITH: And when I went in to pay the rent, they said, “Well, Ms. Smith, we can’t take it.” It was over, like, $2,000. And they say they can’t take $2,000. And I immediately just went to a space: “Well, OK, you know, can you give me my money order back? And I’ll try to move with it. I’ll try to find somewhere else to move.” And then, following the next day, she was like, “Ms. Smith, you were so upset, but we wanted to talk to you.” And then, that’s the part where I had to pay them to stop the eviction, and also pay over $2,000-and-some for rent.
And that’s when I became in contact as a tenant with the Miami Workers Center. And from there, I have been a member and fighting not only for me but all the other ones that came to D.C., all my fellow members that came to D.C., to join the movement of the eviction moratorium and the National Tenant Bill of Rights, to be clear, to make it clear that’s what we’re fighting for. That’s what we need, and that’s what we want.
AMY GOODMAN: Faith Plank, you’re also part of this historic delegation that went to Washington, working with congressmembers and the Biden administration to reinstate the moratorium. You’re 17 years old. We are glad we could get you on before you go to high school today. You’re from Kentucky. Can you talk about what happened to you and your family?
FAITH PLANK: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me on. I’m actually at high school right now. I was able to find a room to make this call.
In March, my entire neighborhood was evicted to make room for a shopping center. I feel the pain of that eviction ’til this day. Just yesterday morning, I was driving my sister to school, and we sat and cried in my car for 10 minutes, because she looked over at me and she said three words. She said, “I miss it.” We both instantly started sobbing and holding each other’s shaking bodies, because even after six months of being evicted, it’s still with us. We still feel the pain of that.
And I guess that’s why it’s so important to me that this eviction moratorium is passed through Congress, because me, along with all of those tenants, have faced an eviction or a pile of rental debt during this pandemic. And with that eviction moratorium being passed, it could have saved my home, and it could have saved 75 other families’ home in my community.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you lived in a mobile park, the North Fork Mobile Home Park in Morehead, for six years, paying $125 a month for rent. It’s not that you stopped paying rent; it’s that they were — they destroyed the mobile home park for this center. So, what happened next to you, your sister and your mom?
FAITH PLANK: So, we were used to pay $125 in lot rent, because we owned our trailer. We were only given 45 days to leave the park, along with 75 other units of affordable housing. And with that comes the source of panic, because in a town that has no affordable housing, and a single mom, it’s extremely difficult. We were able to find an apartment. Then we now pay $950 a month for our rent. That is over $800 more than what we were used to paying. And it’s almost impossible to make that work.
AMY GOODMAN: So, your mom works full time and has to take care of you guys?
FAITH PLANK: Yes, my mom works full time, and now she’s working anywhere from 60 hours a week, as well as I work. Normally I was working up to 30 hours a week to try to help support my family because of this. Because of school, I can no longer work 30 hours a week, which should never be an issue that a 17-year-old has to face, choosing between work and school because of an eviction that wasn’t her fault.
AMY GOODMAN: So, how does this affect you emotionally, Faith, as a teenager, where you’re going to stay the next night, when you’re in school, when you’re with your friends?
FAITH PLANK: I mean, I am still affected emotionally. Just, I mean, every morning as I drive to school, I drive my little sister along with me, and to get from the new apartment to school, we have to drive past what was my home. And when you look up on that hill, it’s almost unimaginable that that used to be my home, because all you see is dirt and bulldozers. It’s now a construction site. So I have to hold back tears every single day because I have to be strong for my little sister. But once I get to school, I can’t hold that in anymore. So I spend a good hour of my first day at school crying, because I can’t focus on school when I’m worried about how I’m going to go to bed tonight.
AMY GOODMAN: So, here you are in Kentucky. You’re talking to us from your high school in Morehead. But last week you were advising White House advisers. What was that like, to be part of this delegation to change the law of the United States around evictions?
FAITH PLANK: [inaudible] gone through similar [inaudible]. I chaired a meeting with Gene Sperling, who is the American Rescue Plan coordinator for the White House. And at that meeting, I told Mr. Sperling that we know the path to getting a full eviction moratorium passed through Congress is very narrow. And the last time, they didn’t have the votes to do it.
But we also know that when the White House wants something done, they get it done. And we know that when Gene Sperling wants something done, he gets it done. So, my ask to him was to have the American people’s back. We need the White House’s leadership, and we need his leadership, to get this eviction moratorium passed through Congress. And we need — we need to make sure that the White House does everything they can to make sure that’s done.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, final words to Vivian Smith in Miami. Cori Bush, the congressmember, and the senator, Elizabeth Warren, have introduced this bill for a federal eviction moratorium. What do you say to the American people?
VIVIAN SMITH: That we went on a mission to make it clear and make it known that the eviction moratorium and the national bill, tenants’ rights, need to be put in effective, like now, like today.
And to know that we have Senator Cori Bush behind us, you know, someone that has gone through what I’ve gone through as a tenant, as a single mother, also what my team that came to D.C. have gone through and are going through, and for people like Faith, that is a 17-year-old that’s trying to get her education — you know, and I take my hat off to her, because I really care so much for her, meeting her, that her mom and me have a lot in common, because I looked at my daughter every time I dropped her off, and I wanted to know how a 12th grader dealt with sleeping in a car, and knowing that when she get out of school, she got to work with her mom on a second job ’til about 10:00 at night and still try to get up and go to school.
So, I would say to, you know, Congress and them that we need that — they need to have our back. We need to know that they have our backs in this eviction moratorium and the national bill, tenants’ rights. We need it.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Vivian Smith, for being with us, speaking to us from Miami, with the Miami Workers Center, and Faith Plank, with Kentucky Tenants, both tenant justice advocates who faced eviction, went to Washington, D.C., in a historic delegation. Faith, thanks so much for joining us from your high school.
Next up, the Taliban are already restricting women’s rights, just after taking over Afghanistan. We’ll speak with V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, founder of One Billion Rising, who’s organized mass actions Saturday to roar and rage for the women of Afghanistan. And we’ll hear from a member of the Afghan Parliament. She is in hiding. This is an exclusive. Stay with us.
Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.
Truthout is widely read among people with lower incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.
We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so.
We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?