Justice for Angel Davis – no to armed evictors!

Standing up to her millionaire landlord and resisting eviction almost cost Black Philadelphia resident Angel Davis her life. 

Davis, 35, was living at the Girard Court Apartments when she was ordered to leave the premises on March 29. An armed Landlord-Tenant Officer, allegedly there just to serve notice of intent to evict, began shouting at her, then raised his weapon and shot Davis twice in the head, according to her spouse Gabriel Plummer, who was in the apartment at the time.

Plummer told NBC 10, “He was trying to push the door open. We’re pushing it closed. The officer then opened fire . . . and just shot her!”

Participants in demonstration for Angel Davis call for end to the violent Landlord-Tenant Offices system, April 5 in Philadelphia.
WW Photo: Joe Piette

Davis survived the shooting but remains hospitalized. The Landlord-Tenant Officer, who authorities refuse to identify, was not arrested. Yet just hours after she was shot, Philadelphia police submitted a warrant to have Davis charged with assault, for allegedly having a knife and “threatening the armed officer,” police told FOX 29 Philadelphia. (March 30)

District Attorney Larry Krasner has since declined to approve the charges — due to lack of evidence.

‘Municipal Court-sanctioned private mercenary, pistol-packing army’

Philadelphia outsources the carrying out of evictions to a private, for-profit law firm, known as the Landlord-Tenant Officer. The firm in turn contracts out serving court notices and performing tenant lockouts to armed security guards, while collecting millions in fees from the property owners.

According to WHYY, municipal court-appointed Landlord-Tenant Officer Marisa Shuter oversees a number of “deputy” officers, who are licensed to carry firearms without any required gun safety training, and no oversight is required. As it happens, Marissa Shuter is married to Municipal Court Judge David C. Shuter, who presides over certain eviction cases, including the writs his spouse enforces. (March 30)

The Shuters have previously been investigated over accusations of nepotism and conflicts of interest.

In an April 7 commentary for the Penn-Capital Star, progressive defense attorney Michael Coard described the landlord-tenant officers as a “Municipal Court-sanctioned private mercenary, pistol-packing army.”

‘People over profits!’

Organized by the Philadelphia Tenants’ Union and other housing activists, over 100 demonstrators gathered outside Shuter’s office at 123 Broad St., just south of Philadelphia City Hall April 5, with signs denouncing Shuter and chants of “People over Profit.” 

Rosalinde Hobson, Davis’ mother, addressing the crowd, described her daughter’s recovery as up and down. “She is suffering head pain and struggling to walk.”

Hobson played a recorded message from Angel, who said “I’m right there with y’all in spirit, even though I can’t be with y’all physically. I wish it didn’t take a tragedy to bring about justice, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Demonstrators marched from Shuter’s office around City Hall, ending with a rally that blocked rush-hour traffic around the building for half an hour. Passersby, who were drawn to the rally because of its high energy, expressed sympathy and support for Davis upon learning of her struggle.

Demands raised by the protesters included: Compensate Angel Davis and all tenants unjustly evicted; disband and disarm the LTO system; end small-debt evictions; and stand up to corporate landlords. Some demonstrators carried signs calling to prioritize public housing, especially for people with disabilities.

Residents from the University City Townhomes, engaged in a years-long struggle with developers who are pushing them out of low-income apartments, participated in the rally wearing T-shirts with “Stop Displacing Black Communities” on the back.

Hold Odin Properties accountable!

While much of the media attention surrounding this case has focused on the questionable LTO practice, not enough has been written about the role of Davis’ landlord — real estate investment firm Odin Properties LLC and its CEO Philip Balderston, one of Philadelphia’s largest landlords, who actually paid the LTO hitman. 

A PEW study in February 2021 found that 2% of landlords like Odin have more than 25 units. But as a group, the large landlords own over half of the city’s rental units.

The Philadelphia-based firm purchased the 80-unit Girard Court Apartments in late 2013. Since then, the Department of Licenses and Inspections holds no records of Odin filing the required annual renter’s license in Philadelphia. If the landlord lacks this license, they are legally forbidden to evict their tenants.

According to their webpage, Odin charges at least $1,300 per month for a 725-square-foot apartment, which is over half the average individual’s income in Philadelphia. And tenants must pay for utilities. Davis’ $8,000 dispute with Odin over back rent in 2021 grew into an argument between the tenants and the landlord, over Odin’s failure to make necessary repairs, especially to nonfunctioning fire alarms.

According to Odin’s webpage, they were founded in 2009 to “identify and acquire underperforming assets in the Eastern United States and transform them to realize long-term value for its residents, neighborhood stakeholders and investors.” In developer/gentrifier double-talk, this translates to “purchase low-income apartment complexes, force out all the low-income tenants and convert the units to high-rent condominiums.” 

Davis’s eviction was one of dozens at the Girard Court Apartments over the last year. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a 2020 report from the progressive advocacy group One PA identified Odin as among “the highest evictors in Philadelphia,” with 470 eviction cases in Municipal Court in 2019. (March 30)

Odin’s pattern of evictions has only worsened. Since the beginning of 2022, another 727 different evictions associated with Odin properties have been filed in Municipal Court, which typically sees 1,500 to 2,000 total evictions a month for the whole city.

Several speakers at Wednesday’s rally addressed the growing problem of gentrifiers like Odin, who are rapidly making it impossible for Black and Brown tenants like Angel Davis to find affordable apartments in the city. Her case may be the “tip of the iceberg.”

In the current mayoral primary, where a combined total of $22 million has been raised by all 11 candidates to date, the two top-funded Democratic candidates Allan Domb and Jeffrey Brown have received around $5 million in super PAC funding. Both have strong ties to the business community as a whole and developers in particular. Domb has been nicknamed “The Condo King.”

Betsey Piette

Betsey.Piette@workers.org

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Betsey Piette

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