Originally published in the Autumn 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 63, printed October 29. Reproduced here for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Autumn 2020 issue or download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.
By Phil Wilayto
Back in the desperate days of the Great Depression, housing rights activists would organize masses of people to block sheriff’s deputies from carrying out evictions. Today’s social and economic crises are producing a similar upsurge of militancy, most recently on Richmond’s working-class North Side.
On the morning of Friday, Oct. 23, a multiracial crowd of some 75 people gathered outside the rental home of Katrina Pitt near the corner of North Avenue and West Crawford Street. The 56-year-old woman has a disability and survives on a monthly Social Security check. She had fallen behind on her rent and was facing an eviction, which would have put herself and five others who share the house on the street in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We all stood either out in the front yard or the street,” an activist who asked to remain anonymous told the Defender. “The intention was there might be a need for defense, so we had a flier listing different levels of risk, from just standing there, to talking with the sheriff deputies to, if necessary, actually occupying the home.”
Previously, another local activist had told Ms. Pitt about a federal moratorium on evictions ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The order halting evictions is to be in effect through the end of the year, but it’s up to the tenant to fill out the necessary paperwork and get it to their landlord. But even then, there’s no guarantee the landlord won’t still contact the sheriff’s office, which actually carries out the evictions.
In this case, the activist had provided rides for Ms. Pitt, who does not own a car. They delivered the paperwork to the landlord, and then went to court and got a judge’s order to stop the eviction. But even that didn’t mean the deputies wouldn’t show up, since in Richmond, unlike in some other cities, the courts don’t necessarily tell the sheriff’s office about the order.
“Our plan was based on the knowledge that the eviction would have been illegal,” the first activist said. “The tenant had filled out the CDC documentation and delivered it to the landlord, but we didn’t know if that had been communicated to the sheriff’s office.”
The eviction was set for 9:30 a.m. and the crowd was building outside Ms. Pitt’s home. No one was sure what was going to happen. Members of the local chapter of Food Not Bombs showed up with coffee and pancakes. Other groups present included Richmond Eviction Defense, Richmond Tenants Union and the Richmond chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Finally 9:30 came and went, without incident. People stayed for another hour, just in case deputies were planning to come later.
“So, with just two days notice, 75 people came out at 9:30 in the morning on a weekday, so we felt that was a good sign for future actions,” the first activist said.
This was at least the fourth time that local anti-eviction activists had gathered to try and stop an eviction. The calls for support mainly are promoted on Twitter and Instagram, along with word of mouth.
To get involved with these efforts, follow @noevictions_rva on Twitter and @richmondevictiondefense on Instagram.
If facing an eviction and looking for support, call the R.E.D. hotline at 804-313-9609.
Categories: Community News