By Adolfho Romero
Alachua County Labor Coalition
Since the early summer of 2020, the Alachua County Labor Coalition started helping tenants by developing the Alachua County Tenants Association. A group of five has now grown to more than a dozen, volunteering and offering services and resources to alleviate those facing financial and legal hardships.
With the assistance of Socialist Alternative, ACTA has been working closely with Evictions Lab to create a database of evictions in the county.
With the aid of The Southwest Advocacy Group (SWAG), a grassroots organization that both promotes the needs and provides opportunities throughout the neighborhoods of SW Gainesville, funds have been provided and extended to hire Ms. McLinda, an ACTA staff member and community activist.
The group has since created and developed a system that includes weekly mailing of financial flyer resources and free legal resources (Three Rivers Legal Services).
A volunteer accesses the county eviction record and disseminates the data. Weekly evictions range between 12-50 per week. Heat maps through GIS have been used to observe, locate, and understand the development of evictions in the county.
The ACTA team communicates and follows closely with tenants in need. During the weekends, you will see ACTA members knocking on doors and doing needs assessments. They have found neighbors facing a variety issues such as pest infestations, lack of maintenance, mold, and unfair fines, especially during COVID-19.
There’s no justification for finding the same detrimental conditions every three months at different Gainesville locations, yet that’s what happpens.
During canvassing, staff provided information on the CARES Act in English and Spanish, with other materials included. Staff found, however, that those in need had no access to the technology needed to complete the application process.
We remained persistent and provided individual services to revise the application process and help with any required documentation. The processes seem to take longer than expected for some of the individuals. Applicants are impatient as they hope to get the money before their rent is due. As of now, ACTA will be working closely with Alachua county to help speed the process and help the community get resources.
Various times our members have reported uninhabitable conditions inside the apartments, such as when one individual could not connect a respirator for his newborn son. The only working outlet was that of the refrigerator. There was no access to a ramp, and he showed us the decrepit conditions of the old wooden rail.
There is a negligence of maintenance by landlords, while unaddressed piles of garbage persist in the neighborhoods. Tenants get agitated and, at times, leave the property rather than fight for their right to stay.
Real stories about landlords giving illegal hefty fines for tenants not paying rent, due to COVID-19, remains a persistent issue. A tenant told us how her family of three was in debt by more than $4,000 and there was no way she could pay. These are weekly stories happening all around Gainesville.
A constant and unaddressed issue that remains on top of ACTA’s list is the high cost of GRU utility bills. On average, the canvassing team encounters stories of tenants paying between $350 and $1,400 each month. Tenants also report surges in utility bills without warning. Some surges are due to old and broken infrastructure that needs repair. The members of ACTA will be hosting an event on Wednesday, Feb. 10 to discuss the high surge of GRU.
One of the Association’s goals is to organize a tenant’s union across the communities that are most in need. ACTA works to address poor living conditions and holds accountable those landlords who do not respond to the housing problems.
The future of this Association is looking bright, the increase of participation and volunteers is astonishing. The dedication that the members hold and the mission to improve the communities is what makes this association successful.
In December, ACTA hosted an event on Tenant’s rights and brought awareness to unfair practices and types of discrimination with the help of Florida Legal Services. In March, ACTA will be hosting a Know-your -Rights webinar and encourages the Gainesville community to participate. For further information or ways in which you can participate with the Alachua County Tenants Association send an email to email@example.com.