Coloradans help disrupt National Multifamily Housing Council conference in DC

Christina Morales struggled for three years to find affordable housing in metro Denver. In 2019 her husband died of a brain aneurysm and she moved in with her son in Northglenn. They split the monthly rent of $2,300, but after contracting COVID she was unable to work and they were evicted despite the moratorium in place at the time.

Morales and her daughter then signed a lease for a place in Thornton at $1,200 a month. When their corporate landlord informed them that their rent would go up to $1,600, they decided to leave, in part because the apartment was infested with cockroaches and the landlord refused to act, Morales explains. Finally, she found an affordable and stable place thanks to the Aurora Housing Authority.

Erika Reyes lived in her Commerce City apartment, run by Residential Security Properties, over the past ten years; she also dealt with cockroaches as well as flooding and electrical issues. As a single mother with three children, one of whom has autism, she says she is doubly concerned about safety and financial security – then Security Properties Residential increased her rent by $266 a month last year.

Reyes and Morales aren’t the only ones with rent issues. Redfin Reports that in July, rents had risen 14% since the first of the year in much of the country and 8.8% in Denver.

Reyes and Morales are now working with United for a new economya Colorado non-profit organization, helping others deal with their housing issues.

Morales was able to work with a lawyer to have his COVID eviction overturned; she says knowing that not everyone has access to this kind of help motivates her to fight to make the system fairer. “I don’t want anyone else to go through this,” she adds. “That’s what inspires me, and I’m a nature advocate anyway. I just want to see others succeed.

Reyes organizes the residents of his apartment complex, urging them to document their issues and gather evidence that will help them hold their landlord accountable. Reyes speaks Spanish and is assisted with translation by Allex Luna, UNE Organizing Director.

Because of their advocacy work, the two women were chosen to travel to Washington, D.C. to disrupt the National Multifamily Housing Councilof the September 13 annual conference, marching down the street outside, protesting in the lobby and through the doors of the conference to take over the stage and share their experiences, chanting “Housing is a human right, fight , fight, fight. ”

The Action Center on Race and the Economythe Center for People’s Democracy and Power switch action joined to bring more than 100 activists to DC “It was very, very powerful,” Morales says. “The strength and unity of my peers was just amazing.”

The NMHC conference is an annual gathering of business owners, some of whom have ties to Colorado, including Greystar. It’s the company that managed the Grand apartment complex in Denver, which was cited last fall by the Denver Fire Department and the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development for unsafe conditions in the luxury resort. In July, the tenants were forced to vacate the premises without notice due to the continued need for repairs.

In DC, Morales described how landlords often treat tenant concerns about unsafe living conditions as menial issues and often see residents as burdens. Being expelled unfairly shamed her, she says; advocating for rent protection and disrupting the conference contributed to the healing.

“I had my peers with me, you know, cheering me on, telling me I did a good job and they were proud of me,” she recalled. “My goal is to regain my self-esteem, my self-respect and my self-worth, because being treated the way I was was very hurtful.”

Reyes has bigger goals. “My dream is to make sure business owners are able to stabilize rents,” she says. “Not just the rent, but also the living conditions, and making sure the upkeep is up to scratch and making sure families can have the opportunity to live in safe and healthy conditions.”

In DC, she saw the power of togetherness, and she wants tenants not just in Commerce City, but across the country to share that strength. “We can create change and hold owners accountable if we come together and organize,” she says.

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