KY Tenants hosts town hall on housing concerns in Lexington

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When Stephanie Hensley moved into an apartment in north Lexington after coming here from Corbin last year, she had high hopes for a fresh start.

“We were excited to move in,” she said, “because before that we were at the Salvation Army.”

But the excitement didn’t last.

Her air conditioning quit working, Hensley said, and the apartment management didn’t fix it. And she said that was just the beginning.

“The tile fell out of my shower, and the toilet broke and my fridge stopped working,” she told attendees at a town hall meeting for Lexington tenants Friday night. “I had a heart attack because of all the stress.”

Finally, she said, she had to move out because of mold that was making her and her son sick. Hensley, who is pregnant, said her family is staying in a hotel for now and hoping to be in a new apartment soon.

“Landlords need to understand that this is not all about them,” she said. “We are paying you, and you should respect us.”

That sentiment was echoed by numerous attendees at the Town Hall on the Housing Crisis at the Lyric Theatre. The event was organized by KY Tenants, an organization that says it is working to improve access to “safe, high-quality, affordable housing.”

Andrea Zang told attendees that the group is planning to launch a campaign next month to work for more tenant protections.

“They treat our homes like they’re profit,” Zang said. “How far are we willing to go to get things right and how we want it?”

Among the protections suggested at the meeting Friday were:

  • Requiring landlords to give tenants the first shot at buying the property they are renting if the landlord decides to sell.
  • Forbidding evictions without a “good cause.”
  • Banning discrimination based on the source of the tenant’s income, such as Section 8 vouchers.

“We are in a housing crisis,” Davita Gatewood told attendees. “We need bold action from city government to protect tenants.”

Davita Gatewood, a single mother of six who is facing eviction and who traveled to D.C. this week to ask the Biden administration to increase tenant protections, speaks during town hall meeting organized by KY Tenants Union at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington, Ky., Friday, July 22, 2022. Silas Walker

Gatewood, a single mother of six who is facing eviction, returned this week from a trip to Washington, D.C., where she was among a group of 15 tenants who lobbied Biden administration officials for increased tenant protections on behalf of Homes Guarantee, a campaign organized by People’s Action.

Gatewood said her landlord wants to sell the house where she has lived for about five years, and Gatewood has had trouble finding another home that is big enough for her family and accepts Section 8 vouchers.

Gatewood has two children already in college, one entering college, two in high school and one with special needs. She said she’s been looking for a new place to live since January and has succeeded twice in delaying the eviction. But she said her Section 8 voucher will expire Aug. 14, and after that, her family will have nowhere to go.

“No one wants to accept Section 8 vouchers,” she said. “Our rent is always on time. We are just being discriminated against because of how we pay our rent.”

Her son Asan Gatewood Parks, 15, a student at Carter G. Woodson Academy, said he’s working two jobs this summer, and if he could, he said, “I would buy my mom her own house,” so she wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.

“I’m a kid. I should be focused on school, my grades, academics, athletics,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to worry about where my family is going to live.

“Housing should be a human right,” he said, adding that elected officials need to take notice.

People check in and speak together during town hall meeting organized by KY Tenants at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington, Ky., Friday, July 22, 2022. Silas Walker

This story was originally published July 22, 2022 10:51 PM.

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