About 20 tenant rights advocates gathered outside the governor’s mansion in Little Rock Thursday night, chanting “What do we want?” Rental Help! When do we want it? Now !
Protesters hung cardboard signs reading “Arkansas Eviction Crisis” and “Asa Stop Blocking the Money” on the doors surrounding Governor Asa Hutchinson’s residence.
Arkansas Renters United organized the protest in light of an analysis of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette data, released Sunday, showing that 2,855 evictions were filed in state courts from Jan. 1 to May 20. This is the most evictions filed during this period in any of the past five years.
In April, Arkansas became one of two states, along with Nebraska, to refuse federal rental assistance funds that would have helped tenants catch up on rent and utility payments after taking delay due to covid-19.
Hutchinson’s decision to withhold the money is particularly unfair to low-income Arkansans as the costs of groceries and gas have risen, activist Redonia Harshaw said at Thursday’s protest.
“You want us to live well, but you don’t give us the resources to do that,” she said. “Some of us work two jobs to stay in our homes. Some of us work two part-time jobs to do one full-time job. It’s not fair. … We’re funding a system with our taxes that perpetuate poverty.”
Arkansas’ 2,855 evictions filed last week were 45% higher than evictions filed during the same period in 2021.
That number rose to 2,931 on Wednesday, Arkansas Renters United wrote in a letter to US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, read aloud at the rally by organizer Joyce Jones.
Hutchinson wrote in an April 19 letter to Yellen that he would take no more than 39% of the $146 million in federal rental assistance funds offered, giving the state about $60 million.
“We urge you to find a pathway to secure all state funding so tenants still recovering from the economic damage caused by the pandemic can get the relief they need and avoid eviction,” Jones read. in the letter.
Asked earlier this month about the state’s increase in evictions, Hutchinson said, “The unemployment rate in Arkansas remains at an all-time high, and it’s also below the national employment rate. It there are economic opportunities for our citizens who can work.”
A spokeswoman for Hutchinson declined to comment further when asked Thursday evening.
Rally goers said the jobs Hutchinson mentioned weren’t enough to keep people housed.
“A lot of people have a job and [still] call the Arkansas Renters United office,” organizer Greg Moore said. “Jobs don’t pay rent.”
Neil Sealy, another rally organizer, said defenders in northwest Arkansas staged a similar protest outside the Fayetteville courthouse around the same time on Thursday.
Arkansas received $173 million in rent assistance funds from the U.S. Treasury in early 2021. The Arkansas Department of Human Services distributed nearly all of this money statewide, to the Except for Benton and Washington counties, which received their own pots of federal grants. money. Pulaski County also had its own program until it distributed all of its funds and was absorbed into the state program.
Samantha Schilling of North Little Rock applied for rent relief from both Pulaski County and the state, but both requests were denied because the programs ran out of money, she said in an interview. .
His doctor prohibited him from working due to a back injury and his attempts to receive disability assistance were unsuccessful. She and her two children had to rely on income from her fiancé, and they fell behind on rent in 2021, she said.
She has received three eviction notices since August and has not yet been forced to move but fears being separated from her family, she said.
“I don’t have the funds to take care of my family, to keep me in a house where I can make things work, where I can keep my family safe,” Schilling said at the rally. “How are we supposed to do this without these [rental assistance] funds?”
Harshaw noted that the federal government has sent financial aid to Ukraine, which has been besieged by neighboring Russia since February.
“You can vote in Congress to send millions of dollars overseas to take care of others, but you don’t even take care of your home,” Harshaw said. “Where’s the logic in that?”
Protesters added “Take care of the house” to their chant list.