On Saturday, March 29, 2014 over 60 workers, community members, and a coalition of Eastside organizations spoke out against vacants and shared their vision for a new housing agenda for Baltimore City. It was an amazing event. United Workers Leadership Council member Shantress Wise has been active in the Housing Roundtable, which is researching solutions to Baltimore’s broken housing system. She was one of those that told her story. Her testimony is below. The video was filmed and edited by the United Workers Media Team.
My name is Shantress Wise. I’m with the United Workers and I’m here to Speak Out about housing, because I’ve faced it head on. Over the last twenty years, I’ve had to move 16 times and have faced countless examples of our broken housing system.
My first experience of dealing with a developer was in 2009. I was living in the West Baltimore Penn-North area and a developer came in, bought up the whole block, and started pushing us out of our homes to redevelop the community. We got a 60-day notice and they wanted us out. They promised us that we could come back after they finished the development, but that wasn’t true. They doubled the rent and nobody was able to go back. I had one neighbor who had lived there since the 1960s and she was pushed out too.
My second experience with our broken housing system was when I lost my home in 2010. I was working as a housekeeper and had to take off time for surgery. When I tried to go back to work, I learned that I had been fired. I lost my home, because that was my only income and I couldn’t pay the rent. I faced homelessness for the first time in my life. It hurt me to lose my home and I couldn’t get help from anyone. At one point I even had to resort to sleeping in the emergency room of a hospital. I ended up in the Karris House Shelter for women and children, and then went into an assisted living program, and finally into Jacob’s Well—transitional housing.
This is just my story and its just one example of how our system of housing is broken. That’s why we are coming together today to reset the agenda around housing and our human rights. We deserve dignity and respect. Housing should be affordable, not just for me, but for everyone.
I’m a part of the Housing Roundtable and we’ve been studying solutions to the housing crisis in Baltimore City. One of the things we have been learning about is community land trusts. They help the community to stay within the community, and the homes to be for the community. And I believe we need community land trusts in Baltimore City, because it’s real permanent affordable housing.
You can stay there as long as you want and not have to move from place to place. No one should have to move from place to place every year because of a broken housing system that puts private gain over people’s needs.
And we need to hold the developers accountable, not to come into our communities and take away our housing and push us out of our homes. And that’s why we are standing up and uniting, homeowners, renters, and homeless, and making our voices heard. We demand Fair Development. Housing Is a Human Right. This is our city and we need to take it back.