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Social Issues Mon Oct 05 2009
To say the least, Erica Bledsoe has had a tough year. Last September, her 48-year-old mother, Rosetta, died suddenly of a massive stroke, leaving Erica as the new legal guardian to her nephew and two nieces -- ages 14, 12 and 9. A month after her mother's death, Erica received an eviction notice from Northpoint, the company that leases her Section 8 apartment in Rogers Park. The letter stated that the family must leave the apartment because the lease is under Rosetta's name, even though Erica's nephew and nieces are listed as tenants.
Erica got a lawyer -- Matt Monahan of the Legal Assistance Foundation-- and concerned community members in Rogers Park began rallying for her cause, forming the Committee to Support the Bledsoe Family. Erica's story even caught the attention of Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, who wrote a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in May, asking that the family be allowed to stay in their home. No representatives from HUD or the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) ever responded to the letter, so activists decided to rally outside the offices Monday afternoon. They held up more than 500 signed postcards/petitions in support of the Bledsoe family.
After more than a year of courageous fighting, Erica's year finally got a little better -- she received word Monday that HUD has stepped in, and arrangements are being made so that her family will be able to stay in her apartment. A court hearing is still scheduled for October 8 on the issue, but Erica, speaking outside of HUD's offices at 77 W. Jackson Blvd., told a crowd of supporters Monday that, "It's been a long struggle, but for the best, so I can't complain. I'm glad it's over with...I never thought so many people cared. So many people showed support, and I want to say thank you to people in my community and outside my community."
After the rally, Erica, 34, told Mechanics that her mother would be proud. "She was a single parent, so for me to step up by myself, with no husband or nothing, and fight this fight, and not be scared to fight this fight, yeah she's pretty proud of me, I think so. I can feel it," she said. "I was never a community person, now I most definitely am a community person because people don't realize how much their community will back them...You have to be able to talk and let people know what's going on in your community, and yeah your community will reach out for you, because at the end of the day, we're all human."
With this case hopefully behind her, Erica hopes to finish school at Cains Barber College within the next few months. "We're trying to get to the point where we can start our lives over again," she said.
Megan Cottrell, former public housing reporter for the Chi-Town Daily News, was one of the first to break the story (if not the first), writing this heart-wrenching piece in July. Check out her coverage of Monday's victory at One Story Up, as well as Adam Doster's recap over at Progress Illinois.
Though disheartening to believe, Erica is one of many tenants struggling to receive fair subsidized housing. Mechanics asked a few supporters at the rally to discuss their thoughts on Erica's case and the larger implications of her story.
Matt MacKellar, International Socialist Organization
(MacKellar is pictured third from the left)
It's a concrete instance where a corporation with an interest in profit just kind of acts in a dehumanizing way without concern for the real human lives that are involved. They're doing something that is really very harsh...these kids just lost their grandmother, who was their primary caretaker, and now they stand to lose their home, their neighborhood, their school from what is at best a technicality... It's a clear instance of that -- of a corporation putting profit before people. We get involved in these concrete issues because the concrete issues matter. We want to make a difference in lives of particular individuals, but also it's an instance of a broader problem in society.
It's part of our belief that the people need to come together to exert pressure on the system. When the people organize collectively, they realize their power and can change things, rather than just sitting back and kind of waiting to the governmental process, which is tied much more closely to the interest of business and to the interest of people involved.
I was really struck by this family because talking to Erica, she's not asking for the moon. She's just saying, 'Can we keep living in the home where we have been living in for all this time so the kids can stay in this school, and they can have that continuity of being in their same neighborhood with their friends?' She's called literally every other subsidized place in the neighborhood and all their waiting lists are closed, so they don't really have other options....It's really about providing housing, which is a fundamental need, so people can get on with their lives.
Frank Edwards, Committee to Support the Bledsoe Family
This is standard. When you have private companies managing buildings like this, they're not there to serve the residents. They're not there to serve the tenants. They're serving the bottom line for their corporation. And what we really need is a process in place where ordinary folks can have their voices heard, and where things like the Bledsoe eviction won't happen. There's no reason for it whatsoever....We need to have something in place where the management of these companies is accountable for the folks that live in the buildings. It's bigger than Erica's case...In talking with the community, this is not the first they've seen.
Marc Kaplan, Committee to Support the Bledsoe Family and Northside Action for Justice
With a lot of housing that's publicly subsidized, there are these kind of issues, where there's arbitrary management and/or there's such a bureaucracy that to get to anybody who would be able to make a decision it's very, very difficult. And then you have these communities that are gentrifying - like most of the communities in the northside....You have some of the people who are new in the neighborhood, they create or put pressure on the management companies using issues that really are fictitious, saying there's all this crime emanating from these buildings, which there isn't.
From our perspective, Northside Action for Justice, one of the solutions is for people to be organized. When people are organized, as a group, they can figure out what needs to be done, and it's much more effective than [on an] individual [level]. When you're [alone], you get worn down, you get beaten down.