Part 2 in a series
By Tess Sohngen, Over-the-Rhine Correspondent
“Thank you all for coming out today,” said John, Director of the Homeless Coalition.
It was one week since we had come to the building north of Liberty where residents were told they had less than two months to pack their bags and leave, and already the time was ticking away. John, Daulton and I sat on folding chairs outside the brick building with four residents. It was the end of a rainy afternoon, and we had caught the break in the storm.
In the week that had passed, the four residents had continued to search for housing they could afford and move into before an October 31 deadline. They had less than five weeks.
“The new manager said [he] doesn’t accept Section 8 housing, so you have two months to move,” said Earl, one of the four residents.
“Even saying that is actually illegal,” said John.
Also illegal is the claim made by managing company Brickstone, the managerial branch of Model Group, that they cannot turn on the heat because the copper and metal had been ripped out and taken to be sold by someone who broke in two years ago, according to the residents.
Earl said he and the other residents had to buy fans to stay warm in the winter, but even that didn’t keep out the cold.
“They don’t respond to nothin’,” said Birdie. “Nothin’ but the rent.”
“I just asked a simple question: ‘What day did I move in?’” said Cat. “They said they were gunna call me back but…”
“No, they’re not going to call you back. They just want you to leave,” Earl said to her.
“We didn’t think they could come up here and do what they’re doing, but they did. So what do we do now?” said Birdie. “We’re all sick. Why are you doing this to us?”
One of the residents had to go back inside to take her medicine. Her leg was giving her so much pain that tears threatened to escape her eyes. But she wouldn’t let them. She wouldn’t accept help heading back inside, either — she had done it plenty of times and could still do it now. She leaned heavily on her cane as she climbed the steps up to the door.
The building has no elevator, and every resident has to climb the steps just to reach the front door. Birdie also moved slow, especially up the steep steps to her apartment at the back of the building. An ambulance comes by almost every week to pick up Cat and drop her back off with new medication. She calls Earl when she returns to help her back into the building. Earl, despite his able-body appearance, suffers from chronic asthma, diabetes and kidney disease.
“You know they’re talking about you, too,” said Birdie. She makes eye contact with me and squeezes her lips together, all her wrinkles digging deeper into her skin.
The manager from Brickstone came around the building asking if people had been harassing her or the other tenants. Harassing? Miss Birdie said there had been nothing of the kind. The manager asked if she had talked to the people who had been coming around the apartments.
“I said I haven’t talked to them since, even though I have,” said Miss Birdie, giving me a wink and toothless smile.
“What do the four of you want — if you got what you wanted?” Josh asked.
“More time,” said Miss Cat.
“I’d rather move,” said Earl. “This is my first apartment that I’ve bought in my entire life. I came in and I stayed.”
And after 32 years of keeping to himself and calling this place home, Earl is ready to move on but not without standing up for his home and those who shared it.
“I want to be in a place I know I’m going to be ‘til the day I die, so I don’t have to go through this or something like this ever again.”
Birdie was not ready to give up her home just yet.
“I didn’t come in to get put out,” she said.
“Each person needs to do what’s best for each individual person, but I’m confident that people tend to get better offers by sticking together. I don’t think you’ll lose anything by holding out,” said John.
In the current state of the building and resident leases, Brickstone could not evict them by Oct. 31, said John. Before Model Group could legally evict the residents, the company would have to review the current leases, file a letter of eviction and then go through the legal procedures if the residents refused to leave or concede to a new lease.
“When you play a game of cards you don’t show all your cards at once… If this group wanted to… this group could say, ‘yeah, rehab the building for us,’” said John.
Before the rain came back, we packed the folding chairs in Daulton’s car and bid the three residents goodbye. Birdie teased Cat, who then tried to hit her with her cane. Earl shook his head, but they were all smiling.
John was no stranger to working with Model, trying to stop the company from evicting residents and changing affordable housing into market-rate apartments. Never had the Coalition been successful in the fight to allow residents to keep their homes. But this time would be different. John had a plan, one he had never attempted before, and the wheels were just beginning to turn.