This is a guest blog post from VISTA Tenant Engagement and Community Economic Development (TECDev) Fellow Keith Syler ('16), of Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I am fortunate to serve as an Equal Justice Works Americorps TECDev Fellow in Cincinnati. My project is hosted by the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, which has a long and impressive record of protecting and preserving public housing.
TECDev, one of two AmeriCorps VISTA programs administered by Equal Justice Works, is short for Tenant Engagement and Community Economic Development. One thing I can say with deep conviction is that the tenants here are already engaged. Public housing is undergoing a transition thanks to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Rental Assistance Demonstration (another acronym: “RAD”) program, which harnesses private funds to bring necessary repairs and improvements like new roofs, plumbing, better security, and paint, to public housing. This is happening all across the country and, right now in Cincinnati, five high-rises full of elderly residents and individuals with disabilities are currently being targeted.
Recently I have been making the rounds of these buildings, as well as meeting with tenant association presidents. I am learning my job, as well as lots of new names and friendly faces.
We set up meetings so that we can advise tenants about their rights in relation to the changes that are coming. All of the tenants will have to be relocated during construction, so they are eager to know whether they have a right to return to the property after construction (YES, they do), if they have any choice as to where they will be relocated (YES, they do), and how their expenses will be covered (ALL will be covered). I am fortunate to be part of a team that can assure tenants that we’ve got their backs, so if promises aren’t kept, we will march into court and protect their interests.
Our team is also advocating for tenant protections that go beyond the bare minimum of the law. We think developers should take tenant input to heart because ultimately, the tenants are the ones who will live with the results.
Due to market changes, the housing authority has delayed relocation of tenants, originally slated for March 2017. It appears now that relocation and construction will start in June of this year. Our team at Legal Aid is assuring tenants that whenever this occurs, we will be there with them to advise and defend.