The piece below was sent to us by Charles Isildur from Staten Island. Charles is an independent and an activist with the New York City Independence Clubs. His post shares his experience nearly being evicted from NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) housing. He began his piece before our conversation with Matthew Desmond, author of EVICTED: Poverty and Profit in the American City and finished it this week. I am glad to be able to share it with you today.
I looked forward to listening to this discussion of Author Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted.” Even though—I have never been technically homeless; I had a few close calls in my life in which I was almost evicted from NYCHA for falling behind on my rent. The most recent circumstance—was during the last three months of 2013, because of circumstances beyond my control. I was laid off from my State job at the New York State Department of Correctional Services (renamed Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in 2012).
I had never read the author’s book of “Evicted”, and I can never fully relate to a person, who has experienced it firsthand. However—I can tell you from my own personal experience that being on the verge of eviction, causes high degrees of stress and a range of emotions stemming from anger to depression. I can relate more to the political side of the “homeless crisis”, because, I have wrestled with the bureaucracy of the State and the City firsthand, when it comes to accessing their funded services—the programs that are supposed to be designed to help a person to survive, and stay afloat.
Unknowingly to an individual, who becomes unemployed; there is a set of “barriers” to overcome—just to access the immediate funds of the “unemployment insurance.” That federal program that our taxes support, and is supposed to be available from the time the claim for unemployment is filed, and approved. This is the common belief of those, who lose their job.
However—it had taken four weeks before I saw my first check of $401.00 in 2013, from the time I was approved for the funds. The first two weeks was spent waiting to receive notification that I was approved for the “unemployment funds” in the mail. Then I had to call a toll-free number, and deal with the prompts of an automated system to find out when I am receive my first unemployment benefits by a specific date. This was when the four-week grace period begins, after that confirmation by the calling of that number. I am not sure if I had to enter a pin code. Another thing that the unemployed individual does not know at the time is that this $401.00 is taxable like a regular income check, which means that the unemployed individual actually receives less money after the standard deductions. I do not remember what that amount was back then; but to get that full $401.00 dollars back in the following weekly checks, I had to fill out an exemption form for the withholding of my income tax in my future checks. I had done this part online, once I registered on the New York State Department of Labor website. Our newly elected governor, Democrat, Andrew Cuomo, had initiated sweeping changes during his first year in office. He wanted everything automated as quickly as possible.
Another thing that a person, who is unemployed, has to use the following form called, the Work Search Record Form (WS5). I had downloaded this form onto my computer, and I had to use this form to make a record of my job search for the first 20 week minimal requirement to collecting the weekly, unemployment check. This was a mandatory requirement by the State. This information can be requested at any given time by the Department of Labor as proof of the individual’s attempts to find employment. I never received the minimal 20 weeks of unemployment, because of the Federal Government Shutdown from October 1 through 16, 2013. The Unemployment Insurances benefits were temporarily disrupted, and this had taken effect during the last week of December of 2013, because Congress was late in replenishing the funds. My last unemployment check was issued through direct deposit on that week. I was heading into the New Year of 2014, owning a month, and-a-half of rent. After January 1st, 2015, I had received an eviction notice later that month. I was officially served. I was angry, because of a situation that was no fault of mine. This is part of the new realities that the unemployed individual is subjected to, when unemployed for the first time.
I see this now as part of the politics on a basic level—part of a greater complex system that was, and still is—levels beyond my understanding. The rules of collecting unemployment have changed since the latter part of 2013, with more restrictions enacted through Congress, regardless of Party affiliation. I had gradually learned that these congressional committees draft these policies in the name of dealing with the national debt, and our congressional leaders argue these agendas through their speeches from their constituents (mostly lobbyists) to justify why a program should be cut, or eliminated in the justification of its failure. The biggest arguments are the claims of fraud, abuse, or it takes away an individual’s incentive to find work, when dealing with the nation’s unemployment issues. Republicans would argue the new restrictions to free up money for other uses in the name of budget reduction. The Democrats would argue for the program’s increase, or to not be touched. The bill to fund the unemployment insurance has other attachments (bills) hooked onto it, because these attachments would not pass a majority vote as a stand-alone bill, or be considered on the floor for a vote. So—therefore these “other bills” are attached to a major funding bill like the Unemployment Insurance. This bill will be stalled in Congress, due to opposing partisan views, which can become extreme at times, during our highly dysfunctional “two-party” system. Then there is political partisan maneuvering, and both Party’s will deploy the Mainstream Media to shame the other in the Public. This kind of process continues for days, and weeks at a time. There are lengthy speeches in return, while Congress is in session. I would watch this kind of political bickering/maneuvering unfold, while watching this coverage on C-SPAN, on cable television. I would watch as much I as could stand, before I change the channel. However—the end result is some kind of bi-partisan agreement in the dysfunction that is Congress. A last minute passage of an Unemployment Bill, during the last hour. However—such a bill will not reach the president’s desk, until days later to be signed into Law. The Mainstream Media will report that the bill was passed, but not the mechanics behind that bill, and the attachments that go with it. They will not speak of what was in the Unemployment Bill, which is funding other agendas. These agendas have nothing to do with the basic human need to survive, and provide for oneself, and their family. This is an example of the politics behind what is a necessity for the average person.
A person depending on the unemployment insurance to survive, and get by, can no longer buy what food they can, or pay some kind of bill, like a much needed utility, or a rent payment to keep from being served an eviction notice, when this Federal Program is disrupted for any reason.
Most people in my experience do not understand, or care about the politics behind why that “check” was not there—when it was supposed to be. The only answer they want to know is how do they get food, pay their rent, and keep a roof over their head. When there are children involved—the anger and desperation is much greater.
The Poor are used as a political leverage to achieve greater agendas which involve millions of dollars that do not address the quality of life of the average person trying live, whether they are either part of the middle-class, or the “low income” brackets according to statistics. Where did this “lower-middle class” terminology come from? What is an “upper-middle class?” When did this social class split occur in the middle-class definition, to avoid being labeled “poor?” How did the definition of $50.000 become the standard of what is defined as “low income?” (Learned the $50.000 part from Lenora Fulani.)
A person trying to survive—does not care about the political complexities, and the decisions made that effect how they would receive that unemployment check on the local level, in their home States. The confusion of the bureaucracy is mainly dismissed as nonsense (BS acronym), and that person will go back home to their friends, and family to relate their own tale of how the City or the State (sometimes both), screwed them over in how they (the agency office) took their money (canceled benefits), did not pay them their money (delayed funds from Congress), or say that they no longer qualify for that unemployment check (change in eligibility requirements from Congress). Confusion and anger will first grip that individual. Then the state of depression arrives later. The state of desperation is the last step in the need to survive in which all moral inhibitions in Society disappear from that person’s mind, when desperation sets in. Then they are willing to “do what they need to survive.”
Most people, who I have encountered, are politically ignorant of the politics behind the funding of these anti-poverty programs by the government, and the struggle to understand the complicated language when applying for these programs, and so on. There are social workers, who lack the patience to explain the complicated manner of the forms, one must fill out. Some of the questions are vague, and some are intrusive. Even I have struggled with some of the wording of such documents. The situation is complicated further when a person has to deal with the sometimes negative attitudes of these State workers, who are hired to run these agencies. This is the bureaucracy at work, on the ground level. The average person does not have that lawyer-like level of intelligence, or that apprehension. Yet—when a mistake is made—it is made the fault of the person filling out the paperwork, because of that misunderstanding of what it was they was support to write in the space after the question on a given form. Explaining the meaning of the languages of these forms to another individual in a manner that they can understand, can be stressful within its self.
When such anti-poverty programs are temporarily disrupted, or cut? This situation triggers the first step towards being “evicted” on the State level. The bills do not stop coming in, and the landlord is not trying to hear why a person cannot pay. My last unemployment check was the last week of December of 2013, because the Republicans in the Congress did not fund the program, before it shutdown, due to their obstructionism against the Democratic president, Barack Obama. The Management in NYCHA is not trying to hear all that, when I was severed a letter of eviction in January of 2014 for being a month behind on my rent. The eviction notice has stated that I owed two months back rent, which I knew was lie. This happened days after I had received a notification of my disability retirement approval from the State of New York. I had to challenge my eviction of course, and get a date from the Richmond County Civil Court. I disputed the amount in front of the county clerk, and I eagerly accepted my assigned court date, and I was dismissed without as much as a “have a good day” comment or something from the clerk, as an act of courteousness.
My court date was approximately two months from the time I was served my eviction notice. This was ample time for me to pay the remainder of my back rent, before I had to appear in court since, I was now receiving disability retirement pension monthly.
On the day of my court appearance, I had felt an anxiety build up within me, because I was representing myself. I had no attorney, because I cannot afford one. Even though all my rent payments were current, I still had to appear in the courthouse. I had to go to that courtroom where the judge would be presiding over my case. I turned that anxiety to anger, because if I had to fall—I was going to go down fighting against people, who were knowledgeable of the Law, and I was not. My case was not dismissed, and Housing can still seek a tenant’s eviction, because the terms were violated. Did not matter that my circumstances were beyond my control; the bottom line was my failure to my rent in a timely fashion. The contractual agreement was broken.
The day I had to appear in court, while I sat in the waiting area of the court room. I had seen attorneys going around speaking to the tenants there to negotiate a settlement with them, before the court proceeding begun. I did not really pay attention to the others in the room. I was in attitude mode, and I was angry. When I did pay attention? I saw a few people silently crying, and very upset, because their problems had overwhelmed them. Being served an “eviction” was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” according to the lives of those who wept? There were others with grim faces. I guess they were trying to mask how they were feeling. The attorneys, who went to those who wept, were offering comfort. Others called out names of persons, who did not show up. When one attorney got to me, he says that my case was dismissed. He did not ask my name. He just assumed it was me. Now that I look back on this, I have to believe that I was the last person to be called from a list. I was in a moment of disbelief in how I was addressed without formal introductions. I got off the bench were I sat, and approached the man at the table, where he sat sifting through his papers, and I asked him to repeat what I thought I heard. He stopped—looked at me and repeated what he said, and showed me the paper of dismissal of my case, and his updated information showing that I no longer owed the money the claimant NYCHA had made against me. I left the courthouse in a pissed off mood, because I had a payment arrangement with the management office in how I was going to catch up. Regardless of my honesty, I was still served an eviction notice regardless, because of a situation beyond my control. I realized that NYCHA does not really work with a person when they temporarily fall behind in their rent. I had thanked the lawyer—the man—in the courtroom, and I quickly exited the courthouse.
It was not my first time, I have been in Court, and I am no stranger to that intimidating fear, and that welling up of anxiety, when the weight of the Law is upon me. It is only their lawyers, and there is nothing for me, the tenant, or the defendant in these landlord tenant cases. It was only their lawyers.
There is no legal counsel to represent the defendant, or the resident facing eviction. The poor/low income person has to face that reality that they cannot afford a lawyer, and all that they have is their wits for their defense, should they go before the judge. When their lawyers are negotiating a deal with the defendant, they are representing their client’s interests—not the tenant. This is when the reality of “you are a broke-ass” sets in. There is no more denying or pretending at this juncture. The letter of the Law is tougher then the hard exterior facade, that a person has worn, until that defining, terrifying day. Than that shell is broken. A cruel form of humility visits that person, if they don’t know it already. The Court officers are always at the ready–to pounce a person during an outburst. When their rage becomes uncorked—that last act before the judgement of the judge, who holds the fate of that person in his hands, because in his courtroom, they are like God. Because in the courtroom—the judge’s decision is supreme in their judgement, and there is a finality in their words. If—the judge does not take pity, upon a given situation involving the person being “evicted?” The doom of “the evicted” is assured. That last sense of self-worth is destroyed, while Society’s label of “worthlessness” is stamped upon their forehead. What came before, which had defined that life will ceases to exist.
Society continues to move forward after that; except for those, who were cast out. It is always the Mainstream Society’s desire to make such people irrelevant in the end. Disappear!
I was nearly perfect in all of my rent payments, and until I was officially declared delinquent. A person can be perfect in all of their rent payments. When it comes to the bureaucracy of the “system”, that kind of history does not matter, and neither does how many years a person lives in a place. This has no bearing when it comes to the rules and regulations involving Housing. Get labeled as a delinquent…your name gets submitted for lease termination according to guidelines. There is really no leeway.
NYCHA does not automatically readjust a person’s rent, when there is a reduction of income. The unemployed tenant has to show proof of receiving an unemployment check for first four weeks, after receiving the payments. After this bureaucratic condition it satisfied, only then will Management will submit a request for a rent readjustment in which there is a grace period of two rent cycles, before the change is reflected in a person’s future rent, which is 30% of yearly income. The tenant is still responsible for the old rent amount, under the previous salary, despite the fact that income no longer exists. The bureaucracy of the Housing system is designed against the tenant.
I wished that Ramon had said what was the legal loophole that his former landlord had exercised to get him evicted after 20 something years, when his short story was posting on your blog, Cathy.
My understanding is that the landlord does not have to renew your lease anymore, especially if the tenant does not, or cannot afford to pay the higher rent of the new lease. The issue of this continues to crop up on the NY-1 nightly program of the Road to City Hall, when there are discussion about the Mayor Bill De Blazio’s current housing policies, and that of past mayors, when it comes to the “tale of two cities” concept. The explosion of the homeless began when all the rent control laws were abolished during former mayors Rudolph Giuliani, and Michael Bloomberg’s previous administrations, while no new units of affordable housing were being built.
Each victim of eviction will relate a similar story of the numbers of years that they have lived in an area—a given neighborhood, before they were ousted. They speak of it as if this should have had weight and substance in the decision making of that former landlord; but this belief is as empty as the void. The real-estate industry is all about development of land, and profit. Then—through the legislative process, enact economic policies like “imminent domain”, and “land seizures” in the poorer neighborhoods in the name of “economic development”, or “economic improvements” to bring that “greater prosperity.” A prosperity which applies to those with the wealth to spend it, and not those, who lack the incomes, or are just too poor to adapt to the changes that come in the name of what is “profitable.”
The worth of human dignity is measured by where you live, and what you have. The wealthier a person is—more respect is given by this type of social judgement; also where a person lives also has a bearing on their Public image. Could this be why I tend to notice how others expend so much mental energy to conceal the fact that they live in a state of economic depravity; that state of being “poor”, according to Society’s standards, so they will be rejected in Public.
The greatest cruelty is when others make the main assumption that a person is homeless, because they were on drugs, and that their suffering is all their own doing—self-inflicted, and never consider the “external forces” beyond the average individual’s control, that created this state of impoverishment—that economic deprivation.
The only time that the existence of the Poor in this nation matter, is when they are used as a political leverage between our elected officials, when it is convenient for them to do so. This is the unfortunate reality within our “two-party” system, to achieve that greater agenda both on the Federal, State, City, and County levels. The only champions of the Poor are those, who fight “the system”, and the “status quo,” and Party affiliation is not needed for that.
Charles E. Isildur
Finished date: December 12, 2016.