New Kentucky Group Wants To Organize Renters Statewide For More Protections

Aug 7, 2021 at 1:50 am
Mindy Davenport became a tenant organizer when her mobile home park, North Fork, in Rowan County, Kentucky, was sold to a developer.  |  Photo courtesy of Justice 4 North Fork
Mindy Davenport became a tenant organizer when her mobile home park, North Fork, in Rowan County, Kentucky, was sold to a developer. | Photo courtesy of Justice 4 North Fork

Mindy Davenport realized how few rights renters have in Kentucky when she learned that a developer wanted to buy the Morehead mobile home park where she had lived for 25 years. Their plan was to evict her and all her neighbors.

“We had zero,” she said. “The only right we had is that they had to give us a 30 days notice, and that was it.”

Davenport got involved with a tenants-rights effort called Justice 4 North Fork earlier this year to organize against the evictions. The group comforted her through months of “terror” and is now challenging the development in court, although her and her neighbors were still evicted. 

Now, she wants to advocate for tenants rights on a state level. On Saturday, Davenport plans to attend the first Tenant Organizing Training session by KY Tenants, a new organization that plans to unite renters across Kentucky to demand “good housing for all.”

“I think people do need to realize that the things that can happen to you, and property owners have no more obligation to you than that 30 day [notice],” she said.

During the pandemic, several tenant organizations sprung up in Kentucky, including groups in Bowling Green and Madison County, said Beau Revlett, a KY Tenants organizer. Economic woes from COVID-19 have put thousands of Kentuckians at risk of eviction, highlighting the need for tenant protections. Last week, the federal eviction moratorium — for tenants who couldn’t pay rent — lapsed. The safety net of the moratorium was absent for two days before the CDC instated another one for areas of the country with high rates of COVID transmissibility. That applies to most counties in Kentucky, but it’s a protection that could be yanked away at any time. 

KY Tenants is bringing together the new tenants groups and a couple that have existed for slightly longer, including one in Lexington. Tenant organizing in Kentucky has been a long-standing tradition but a sporadic one, according to Revlett. KY Tenants seeks to change that.

Saturday’s organizing and training session is the first in a series that will last through Dec. 18. The trainings are going on tour throughout Kentucky, but participants will be able to attend each one remotely. 

The first month of sessions is an introduction to housing justice, meant to “give tenants a shared grounding and understanding,” as Revlett put it. 

From there, the workshops will teach tenants how to organize to fight for better housing. 

KY Tenants’ long-term goal is for tenants to collectively purchase housing to live in and take care of. 

“We’re not going to let, you know, the roach infestation last two months, we're not going to let the holes fall through the roof,” said Revlett. “Whenever it's a democratically-controlled building, then those kinds of things will get taken care of, and housing won't be a vehicle for investment for wealthy developers, landlords and investors but rather a place that's actually home.”

Most counties and cities in Kentucky don’t have their own rental protections, said Revlett. Instead, they rely on common law, or legal precedent. Some counties, like Jefferson, have adopted the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, or URLTA. This does provide some protections for tenants, such as requirements that living conditions adhere to certain standards, and one for landlords to give notice before entering a renters’ home. But, Revlett says it also can help landlords with properties in multiple jurisdictions by streamlining the process for evictions. 

For too long, according to Revlett, the housing rights discourse on the state legislative level has focused on passing URLTA across Kentucky. KY Tenants wants to organize renters, so that they can push for even better protections. 

KY Tenants is also taking part in a nationwide listening session with an organization called Homes Guarantee, talking to renters across the state. Its goal is to speak to 17,500. So far, it’s contacted over 1,000 in-person, over the phone and via text. 

With the tenant training, Davenport said she hopes to learn, so one day she can teach. 

“Maybe one of these days, I can actually help somebody in a neighborhood that's going through the same thing I just went through,” she said. “That’s my whole goal now is I just want people to know if you're out there, this is happening to you, I’m here. You can talk to me. If you just need to talk, that’s it; I'm here.”

To sign up for tenant training, click here. Previous organizing experience is not required. The first session, “Navigating Power/Anti-oppression 101” is at Rowan County Public Library or via Zoom. The first Louisville training, “Profits Over People: Understanding the Current Housing System” is Aug. 21.