• RTHA

Debbie’s Right to Housing: We Shall Overcome Someday

Debbie Jennings is a Member of the Right to Housing Alliance Leadership Council and a tireless fighter for human rights. Since joining us last year she has led presentations, coordinated community outreach, and provided valuable testimony that led to the passing of Senate Bill 800, which strengthened protections for tenants facing retaliatory evictions. We’re so happy to have her with us in the fight for housing with dignity for all! Listen to her tell it herself…

My name is Deborah Jennings.

I have been renting my home for four years. I’m a grandmother caring for my three year old granddaughter.  While I was able to work I was a model tenant who paid my rent always on time or ahead of time. In 2012 I became disabled and was unable to work. During the four months while I was waiting for my disability to be approved I was taken to court every month, receiving judgments against me. Even though I caught up on back rent, with my disability checks coming in the middle of the month, I still get judgments against me each month.

While waiting until my disability was approved, my landlord stopped making repairs to my house. There’s constant water damage in which the paint is hanging down from my ceiling. There are roaches, which I constantly have to bomb, and there is an infestation of mice. I have caught 12 mice in one day before. There’s peeling paint down my stairwell, in which I have to make sure all the time that my three-year-old granddaughter doesn’t put any of the chips in her mouth. Unfortunately despite these hazardous conditions I am not allowed to put my rent in escrow to force my landlord to make the repairs because I have more than three judgments against me.  So far my landlord has chosen to renew my lease despite the judgments. Like many other tenants, I live in fear that if I continue to complain about conditions issues my landlord might retaliate and choose to not renew next time.

In October of 2013 I joined the Right to Housing Alliance. I attend the member meetings regularly and though the challenges I face in my housing still exist, I’ve learned more importantly that I am not alone. The fear of retaliation is not uncommon and there is a thing known as an illegal eviction. I now understand why I was never able to mention my defenses during my hearings in court when I’m forced to go.

The most rewarding part, for me, being a part of RTHA is that I’m able to take what I have learned and pass it on to others that are in my community going through the same stuff. I now understand the importance of everyone knowing they have a right to housing with peace and dignity.  I’m able to contribute to this movement building for change, which lifts my spirits more than just sitting back and being taken advantage of. To be able to teach my daughter and granddaughter that safe and affordable housing is a human right that is worth fighting for.

Change starts when we no longer wish to sit back and wait, but join the movement to create change. We shall overcome… someday.

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