Housing

Colorado Tenants Help Disrupt Corporate Landlord Conference in D.C.

Christina Morales (right) rallied for tenant rights in Washington, D.C.
Christina Morales (right) rallied for tenant rights in Washington, D.C. Alonso Hernandez / PowerSwitch Action
Christina Morales struggled for three years to find affordable housing in metro Denver. In 2019, her husband died after he suffered a brain aneurysm, and she moved in with her son in Northglenn. They split the $2,300 monthly rent, but after she contracted COVID, she couldn’t work, and they were evicted despite the moratorium in place at the time.

Morales and her daughter then signed a lease for a place in Thornton at $1,200 per month. When their corporate landlord notified them that their rent would rise to $1,600, they decided to leave — partly because the apartment was infested with cockroaches and the landlord refused to take action, Morales says. Finally, she located an affordable, stable place through the Aurora Housing Authority.

Erika Reyes has lived in her Commerce City apartment, managed by Security Properties Residential, for the past ten years; she’s also dealt with cockroaches as well as flooding and electrical problems. As a single mother with three children, one of whom has autism, she says she's doubly concerned about safety and financial security — and then Security Properties Residential raised her rent by $266 a month last year.

Reyes and Morales aren’t alone in having rent concerns. Redfin reports that as of July, rents had risen 14 percent since the first of the year in much of the country, and 8.8 percent in Denver.

Both Reyes and Morales are now working with United for a New Economy, a Colorado nonprofit, helping others to handle their housing problems.

Morales was able to work with an attorney to get her COVID eviction overturned; she says that knowing not everyone can access that type of help motivates her to fight to make the system more fair. “I don't want anyone else to go through this,” she adds. “That's what inspires me, and I'm an advocate in nature, anyway. I just want to see others succeed.”

Reyes is organizing residents of her apartment complex, urging them to document their problems and collect evidence that will help them hold their landlord accountable. Reyes speaks Spanish and is assisted with translation by Allex Luna, organizing director for UNE.

Because of their advocacy work, both women were chosen to travel to Washington, D.C., to disrupt the National Multifamily Housing Council’s annual conference on September 13, marching in the street outside, protesting in the lobby and bursting through the doors of the conference to take over the stage and share their experiences, chanting “Housing is a human right, fight, fight, fight.”

The Action Center on Race and the Economy, the Center for Popular Democracy and PowerSwitch Action joined to bring over 100 activists to D.C. “It was very, very powerful,” Morales says. “The strength and the unity of my peers was just incredible.”

The NMHC conference is an annual gathering of corporate landlords, some with Colorado ties, including Greystar. That's the company that handled the Grand apartment complex in Denver, which was cited last fall by the Denver Fire Department and the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development for unsafe conditions at the luxury complex. In July, tenants were forced to vacate the premises with little notice because of the ongoing need for repairs.

In D.C., Morales described how landlords often treat tenant concerns about unsafe living conditions as menial problems and often regard residents as burdens. Being evicted unjustly made her feel ashamed, she says; advocating for rental protection and disrupting the conference helped with the healing.

“I had my peers with me, you know, cheering me on, telling me I did a good job and they were proud of me,” she recalls. “My focus is to get my self-esteem back, and my self-respect and my self-worth, because being treated the way I was was very hurtful.”

Reyes has more ambitious goals. “My dream is to make sure that corporate landlords are able to stabilize rents,” she says. “Not only rent, but also the living conditions, and making sure that maintenance is up to par and making sure that families can have the opportunity to live in safe and healthy conditions.”

In D.C., she saw the power of solidarity, and she wants tenants not just in Commerce City, but across the country to share in that strength. “We can create change and hold landlords accountable if we come together and organize,” she says.
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire

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