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Akron tenants say they're fed up and want issues addressed

Kabir Bhatia
LaTonya Tyes shows off gaps in her floors where pests can get in. She also has a half-inch gap under her front door. Tyes heads the Wilbeth Arlington tenants union, and says the nearly 80-year-old units need to be demolished and rebuilt.

Two tenants’ unions in Akron are demanding changes to the way complaints are handled about low-income housing. And they’re asking elected officials to get involved – or get out of the way.

Several union members provided tours of their apartments Thursday to highlight instances of mold, rodent infestation, and water damage – issues which they say are being ignored by landlords.

Ray Greene is with the Akron-based organizing collective Freedom BLOC.

“What’s really discouraging is, on the other side of town, we’re building $250,000 homes. What we want to do is bring light to the situation. We need a mayor, we need a city council, county council, state reps, and HUD that cares about the poor as much as they care about the rich," Greene said.

“This is just a whole bunch of systems which are not talking to eachother at all. There isn’t even a pipeline for them to talk to eachother. This isn’t going on deaf ears; it’s going on no ears.”

Representatives with Akron's Community Legal Aid said elected officials were invited to the tour, but could not attend due to Veteran’s Day. Greene says that if their complaints continue to be ignored, it may be time for residents to start running for office. His group is hoping to collect 20,000 e-mail addresses from people who are concerned about the issues and want them to be taken seriously.

The union was formed over the summer, a few months after new management took over the apartments from the Akron Municipal Housing Authority. This year, Lauren Green-Hull, associate director of Fair Housing Contact Service, says complaints have been ignored when her group has tried to follow-up.

“Unfortunately, there are times when further action needs to happen. And I think that we’re at that point right now [where] state and local officials need to step in. And if legal action needs to be taken, then that’s something that the attorneys will definitely consider.”

State Rep. Tavia Galonski was on part of the tour, but Killian Brooks with Serve The People Akron – a grassroots mutual aid organization in the city -- feels the absence of other officials actually sends a message.

“I know it’s a holiday, but there are [also] veterans living in those poor conditions. They just turned their backs on those veterans – on Veteran’s Day.”

Community Legal Aid is advising the tenants' unions and has drawn up a potential complaint form which could be used to address problems in the future. Andrew Neuhauser, an attorney with Legal Aid, says he’s hopeful that -- with tenants organizing – the issues will start to be addressed soon.

LaTonya Tyes, head of the Wilbeth-Arlington Homes union, feels many of the units simply need to be torn down and replaced, given their age and the issues involved. Some of the buildings date back to the 1940s. Her group wants regular inspections to check for structural issues, black mold, and pests such as mice and roaches.

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Akron's Community Legal Aid and the group Freedom BLOC are both advising the tenant unions, which are distributing this flyer asking people to get involved.
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