Every year DataWorks has broadcast to Durham the scale and inequitable nature of the churn of displacement and eviction in our community. We have shared our witness [1, 2] of the violence during times when more than 1,000 evictions got filed each month and watched closely with our people how the devastation of COVID-19 led to a hopeful housing policy: the moratorium on failure-to-pay evictions. That policy is gone now for more than a year, and Durham is returning to a ‘normal’ that was long tragic in its violence to Black, Indigenous and People of Color as well as all poor and working class people trying to live, work and play here.
Housing is a human right. It offers the first front line of safety, wellness and opportunity for all our neighbors. Taking homes from people is a form of violence to our community: a study conducted by UNC Greensboro’s Center for Housing and Community Studies found that 65% of interviewed tenants experienced homelessness after eviction. A survey of Milwaukee residents revealed that “one in two homeless adults cites eviction or other rental problems as the cause of [their] homelessness.”
This is why we stand with the Eno River Tenants Association (ERTA) for proposing an alternative solution for their landlord which deserves attention and support. Along with demanding the most basic provisions of safety and security (rescind the notices to vacate, bring the homes up to habitability standards), ERTA has put a transformative opportunity for Durham on the table:
- turn the houses over to tenant ownership using a shared equity land trust housing model;
- and consider turning the excess vacant land on these parcels over to Indigenous stewardship! (Should land return prove to be too onerous at the present time, consider granting cultural easements to Indigenous or historically dispossessed groups in Durham).
A transformative opportunity
Our entire system of property, owning it, and saying who can own and do what on it, is still an imposed colonial system. The work of Durham’s Racial Equity Task Force urgently calls for us to undo this, to advance justice and reparations in Durham. But how we begin to right this wrong does not have to be an intellectual exercise – it can begin with a real estate decision. The ERTA has offered a discrete example, a proposal that links their landlord’s own land acknowledgement to an act of reparation they can take right now: prevent another real estate transaction that displaces people, and return access and stewardship of vacant land to dispossessed people.
Of course, if this can be made true in the case of Eno River Tenants it can be made true of all land in Durham, developed as it is on Shakori, Tuscarora, Eno and Occaneechi territory and from the labor of generations of Black residents. This is a point from which we can begin recognizing that all property decisions can be made with community benefit and reparation in mind. And land transactions made by public institutions and social mission organizations are at the leading edge of opportunity if they choose to be. And some of our local government’s ambitious affordable housing resources may even be well-applied in support of these opportunities.
United by the right to a safe home
One final consideration from us. Similar conditions to those endured by the Eno River Tenants happen every day in Durham. Notably for tenants of public housing, the largest properties of which have failing inspection scores. Just as we are all bonded by the same calls for reparations, we are bonded by the shared struggle for secure and safe housing. Some of us are on different ends of that spectrum of security right now, but it can be any of us at some point in our lives. Today it is happening to the Eno River Tenants, tomorrow to the families renting from Rick Soles, the tenants of Oxford Manor. The universal human right of secure tenure will not be real until residents across Durham grow into a solidarity that honors one another’s rights and fights to defend them. And when our institutions respond by addressing these needs directly.
We stand in solidarity with the Eno River Tenants Association for a brighter future of land justice and security of tenure for Black, Indigenous, people of color, poor and working class tenants across Durham.
Learn more, sign the ERTA petition and be in touch