Unaddressed mold, water damage, pest infestations, a gate that remained unrepaired so long that it disrupted needed emergency vehicles, among other issues had constantly been at the top of tenants’ minds at the Acres Home Garden apartment complex. The 14-unit development, which serves very low-income residents - specifically disabled residents - is located in North Houston and is run by the non-profit Housing Corporation of Greater Houston. Despite the focus on such a population, the non-profit ownership, and the claims made by the landlords that they are a benevolent housing provider, repairs and maintenance requests went unheard, being completely ignored by management. Housing quality in the complex had seriously deteriorated.
In late 2021, Kent Churchill contacted the Houston Tenants’ Union in response to the deplorable conditions. He faced issues in his apartment, including having to manually flush his toilet by filling the tank with a bucket and pulling the stopper after maintenance requests went poorly addressed or ignored completely. Organizers met with Churchill and began organizing the complex. Churchill talked with his neighbors and developed a group of tenants who were committed to taking on their landlord. Some at the complex were understandably worried about what may happen if such demands were made and retaliation occurred. With the apartments being one of a few complexes that kept rents subsidized for such a specific population, tenants could not afford to move elsewhere. Churchill warned his neighbors, though, that “if you don’t say anything, the problems get worse and snowball.”
"If you don't say anything, the problems get worse and snowball." - Kent Churchill, Complex Resident and Tenant Organizer
Being equipped with the support from HTU organizers, as well as having each other to lean on, tenants understood that they had the foundation necessary to follow-through with the campaign. “Even creating an atmosphere of change will accomplish something,” said Charlotte Leslie, a tenant of the complex who was threatened with eviction after being falsely accused of causing the maintenance issues in her apartment herself. “Don’t be afraid that someone who has a little more power will get mad at you. If we stand up against oppression, we will succeed,” she asserted. With the tenants rallied, the group committed to direct action.
On November 21st, tenants - led by Churchill and Richard Caudill and flanked by HTU members - delivered their demands to the board of the Housing Corporation of Greater Houston. The letter stated several demands, including an immediate end of all threats and harassment made by management to tenants, adequate and timely repairs for all maintenance requests - especially those involving health risks and hazards, bi-monthly pest control for all units experiencing pest issues, and adequate security with regular main gate maintenance.
Tenants described almost immediate and robust responses after the demands were made. Representatives from the Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, a local agency that provides services to mentally-disabled persons, came to the complex to document the tenants’ needs.
Additionally, the management that ignored tenants’ repeated requests for maintenance was removed with an interim manager currently in place. Just a few weeks ago, Charlotte was moved into a newly remodeled unit - a major improvement from the housing she had to endure before. Minor repairs are now being completed in a timely fashion. Some major repairs have yet to be addressed, such as the main gate issues, with tenants making sure to remain vigilant of management reverting to their old ways.
Kent Churchill, surrounded by Richard Caudill, a fellow tenant, and other HTU members, announces demands of Gardens Acres Homes tenants on November 21, 2021.
Caleb Miller, the HTU organizer that has supported the tenants for the past months, made clear that the campaign is not over. However, tenants are elated at the progress being made so far. There is no question among the Acres Home Garden residents that the organizing work done over the course of months led directly to the improvements seen. Shirley Ware, an 11-year resident of the apartments who was on the verge of moving out due to the conditions, stated firmly that “without the complaints, we would not have gotten things done.” Churchill echoed these sentiments, urging tenants to “unite, because there is strength in numbers.”
"Without the complaints, we would not have gotten things done." - Shirley Ware, Complex Resident and Tenant Organizer
As the campaign continues to ensure that all demands are met, tenants are glad to have habitable homes to rest and rejuvenate. Ware mentioned that she was excited about helping improve the complex by gardening, livening up the grounds by growing beautiful flowers and vegetables to use for her generations-old recipes. Ware described what she envisioned with her plans, stating “I want this place to say: ‘welcome home.’”