Update on Project Activities
We continued our transcription work this week in hopes of reaching our self-imposed transcription completion deadline of next Friday (Nov 1). So far, the transcriptions have been going well, but have definitely taken a significant amount of time and energy to complete. Listening to the interviews has been incredible and rewarding, and we are learning a lot about the lived experiences of the interviewees. We have been continuing to find sections in the interviews that we could potentially use in our final editing clips.
In addition to the transcriptions, we have been familiarizing ourselves with the website design process, and we have been thinking of ways to incorporate our edited clips into the website. There is a lot of room for creativity here, and we have been brainstorming ways to represent the interviews on the website in a way that is reflective of their content (for some, it could be a video, and for others it could be an interactive clip, etc.).
We have also been looking at times to go to the city and observe Alexi doing an interview in order to experience the intimacy and vulnerability this kind of work requires. Lydia and Claire are planning to accompany her soon, and we are looking forward to learning more about the interviewing process.
In addition, during our call this week with Alexi, Jim discussed what he learned through the interview he was transcribing and the background research he did on the events related to it. It was interesting to discuss the ethical issues of eviction due to safety. Is it okay to put people on the streets if a building is deemed “unsafe”? Is it okay for landlords to profit off low-income housing and government housing programs?
What We Observed and Learned
One of our transcription interviewees, was a veteran defending his landlord over the controversial housing she provided homeless veterans. This specific interview and situation raised questions of ethics and profit. Fundamentally, should landlords of low-income tenants be allowed to profit off government programs? In addition, should the city be responsible for homelessness due to evictions related to building codes?
Through the interview, we were able to see the tenant’s side of the story. He describes the landlord as well intentioned and caring. She went beyond his expectations as a landlord and despite that, the city is after her for banking millions of dollars by squeezing formerly homeless veterans into cramped illegal dwelling units.
According to the veteran and other interviewed sources, the landlord would go around looking for stable-minded veterans to take off the streets and provided them with safe housing. It is not often that the tenant and landlord stands on the same side of an argument, but in this case, the tenant is defending the landlord against the city.
“Everything was new all the appliances are new... The stoves... The uh... uh... Washers and dryers downstairs, the refrigerators, everything was new. When we moved in here and all the rest of them too. She bought appliances in bulk. And Whirlpool washers and dryers downstairs. I mean... Who does that? So it wasn't the fact that she was worried about the money. She worried about us and the city doesn't see that. Too much bureaucratic red tape. They don't care about the vets. They just want to get Judy and they want to make her tear down everything that she's done which is putting us back out on the streets …” -Interviewee
From the city’s perspective, the landlord skirted building codes and abused the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Homes for Heroes program. She had divided 12 buildings with 15 legal units into smaller spaces that housed 49 individual tenants, making about $1 million a year in rent. Although her actions reduced veteran homelessness, which was the intent of the program, the city had to enforce safety standards for tenants and neighborhoods. According to the city, her buildings contained jerry-rigged natural gas and water lines, while neighbors complained of overcrowding, noise, and littering.
Based on some quick research, as a result of the city’s actions against her, she agreed to pay the city a $2 million fine and bring all the buildings she owns into compliance with the law. What this meant for the tenants was that 10 of them had to relocate or end up homeless again.**
Another transcription interviewee touched on themes of environmental justice. She had moved to a new housing development in Bayshore, which promised beautiful amenities and a thriving community. She moved in before it was finished, with her family, and were told to “have faith” in the development process. A few months after, a headline in a paper ran, detailing that the housing development company had lied about the quality of the development, and it had been built on land that was radioactive from a shipyard there years prior, and declared officially unsafe for living. The interviewee detailed the injustice of literally living on radioactive land, and how betrayed she felt that the development had lied so blatantly. Most of the new tenants were people of color. After the news broke, the development stopped new construction, and the tenants were trapped in half-finished housing full of radiation. This type of environmental injustice is not uncommon, and hearing an interview about it is incredibly powerful, especially one so close to home.