Houston tenants fight racist landlord

By on January 17, 2013
Tenants and supporters demand justice.WW photo: Gloria Rubac

Tenants and supporters demand justice.
WW photo: Gloria Rubac

Houston — It sounds like something that would have happened in the 1950s. In November 2012 an apartment complex in Houston posted notices around their property that stated:

“We ask you to report to the office immediately every time you see teenagers or adolescents of Afro-American race or any other suspicious people in the property. The Office, Rock Springs Apartments.”

When resident Monica Rodriguez saw the notices, she immediately went to the office to complain that the notices were racist. The management was not interested in the complaints of racism, and then notified Rodriguez that her lease would not be renewed when it was up in January.

Rodriguez, an activist with Alianza Mexicana, an organization of Mexican immigrants, told others in her group what happened. The Alianza held a press conference near the end of November to expose this racist attack on African Americans and the retaliation against Rodriguez.

After the press conference, the management evicted Rodriguez, her spouse and their two small children. When she went to court to appeal the eviction, the judge sided with the owners of the apartments, and the family had to move during the December holidays. Rodriguez appealed to have the $2,000 court fees discounted because of their low income — only $14,000 a year. But the owner told the judge that the family must have more income than they claimed, since they had put up holiday decorations and “she leaves her Christmas lights on longer at night than the other residents.” Rodriguez also lost that appeal.

Houston Unido, a grassroots community organization that defends immigrant rights, held a demonstration at the apartments in early January and generated a lot of media coverage as well as interest from residents.

Most residents were fearful of speaking with the media, but some did. They told of not having hot water for months and that needed repairs were seldom made. One man said he was fined $60 for leaving his shoes outside his front door overnight. Now residents are being fined if their children play outside without an adult present.

Speaking at the demonstration was Martina Rodriguez, an activist with Alianza Mexicana, who was banned from visiting friends at the apartments. Another speaker was a long-time tenant organizer, Lenwood Johnson, a leader of the Free Man’s Neighborhood Association, who said that what the apartment owners did was totally illegal. Also participating were members of the New Black Panther Party and the International Action Center as well as other activists.

A formal complaint has been filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. A committee at Houston Unido is planning more actions against these racist owners, who live in the wealthy Houston suburbs but own at least a half dozen run-down apartment complexes in working-class and immigrant neighborhoods.

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