Security Threatens Pepper Spray on Parent & Child During Rent Strike Picket
About half of the residents at Villas Del Paseo have been on rent strike since February 28, 2021, after Winter Storm Uri when they didn’t have water and were told to boil green-algae pool water. Over the last few weeks of pickets, tensions with security have risen. On April 5, 2021, tensions escalated further when the security officer threatened pepper spray on a parent and his child. I also received reports that about seven police officers, some in plainclothes, surrounded residents and told them they were trespassing.
Security attempted to block entry to tenants who resided in the complex.
RELATED: History Of Policing In America: Starts And Ends With Protecting Private Property
Before tenants organized into VDP Tenants Union (VDPTU), there was no security on the property. After months of the front gate being broken and tenants experiencing an increase of burglary, they asked management for security. Management did not hire security. The security guard was hired about a month into their rent strike and is present during management’s office hours.
“No Water, No Rent”
Water has been restored to some tenants, but not to everyone in the complex. Those who have water have reported low pressure, no hot water, discoloration, and the water smelling terribly. Most tenants are afraid to cook with the water. Even before the winter storm hit, tenants in the complex faced increasingly uninhabitable conditions such as leaks, mold, and not having A/C. When most tenants were still without water, a donor donated a large amount of water. Management confiscated it to give away the next day when they knew reporters would be there to cover the ongoing strike.
Problems with maintenance under Comunidad Partners’ management has been an ongoing issue since before the winter storm. Anthony, a former Villas del Paseo employee and tenant, described to Houston Tenants Union (HTU) what he saw once Comunidad Partners took over the apartment complex.
Anthony recounted his experience in July 2020, alleging that the property manager told him to remove breaker boxes and to turn off the A/C to get tenants behind on rent to move out. He also described “a treasure hunt” of trying to find parts in vacant apartments to make repairs. With only three maintenance people working and no resources for parts, the backlog of maintenance requests piled up to 100 at one point.
“I approve their strike 110%. I think the people that are striking will get what they want, and they should…they could win in the end.”
RELATED: “No Justice, No Rent:” After Winter Storm Uri, Tenants Go on Strike
A Failed State
For many tenants involved in the rent strike, this is their first time being politically involved and unfortunately they are witnessing first-hand how systemically property is prioritized over their lives. From the policing we touched on earlier to the systemic nature of it, it can be jarring when you think you live in a democracy that isn’t directly controlled by the oligarchs.
Tenants called the City of Houston to get help, but they were told the city could not help because it was private property. When tenants called about the green-algae pool they were told to boil and use, the City of Houston locked the pool gates and put up sign to not enter. Our local government was useless in helping the people.
One tenant told me about how he worked to reach out to the Houston Apartment Association (HAA) to get help. Villas del Paseo is listed as a member of the association. No help came from them either. HAA describes themselves as a “leading advocate, resource and community partner for quality rental housing providers.” What is “rental housing providers”? Double-speak for landlords. Through their PAC, HAA contributed $10,000 to Mayor Sylvester Turner in his most recent campaign finance report. He received another $20,000 from landlords who are members of the HAA.
The HAA was never going to help them, and frankly, the city was never going to either. Despite this, the tenants are continuing their rent strike until all demands are met. Demands include prorated rent for all days without water, 24 hour response time on repair requests, and more.
“The landlords showed a total disregard for our wellbeing by not restoring water in a timely manner. Our decision to go on strike spurred them to action. They have a culture of not maintaining the building and we are saying NO MORE. We need change, we need justice!” -Ms. Johnson