Uprooted Lives: A Lexington mother on the harsh reality of a housing system that puts profits over people

by Davita Gatewood

I’m listening to my children stress about why we have to move again even though we haven’t yet been in our house for a year. I’m wondering how we will be able to find housing stability. I feel their stress. I’m their parent. It is natural that I would feel their stress.

We lost our home last year. We fought for extensions, just to keep a roof over our heads. The reason? Because the property owner (landlord) no longer wanted to take care of upkeep on the property and viewed it as a way to make a quick profit. The point is to flip the property and make more money. Something that happens with disturbing frequency today. We are now going through the exact same thing. When is enough, enough? My daughter loves her new room. She finally has a bathroom she doesn’t have to share. This may not seem like anything major to the affluent in our community. But to her, it matters. We live in a community where many people profit off tenants like us. We have trauma when it comes to housing. They force people out when they get tired of it.

I believe they know it isn’t right. They hide behind an LLC because they don’t want people to know they own multiple properties. But they sell when maintenance is expensive. Or to make a profit. However, in those homes are families like mine. We are forced to uproot ourselves and our lives.We have to go through trauma about where we can go when affordable and safe housing is so hard to come by. When did housing become more about maximum profit and less about people? When did it stop mattering that the community has stable affordable housing to celebrate holidays?

Housing Choice renters are discriminated against, even though we pay rent. Is there affordable housing in Lexington? Not much. Not enough. Homeowners buy homes and allow tenants to move in. But when the responsibility is too great, they sell the home. The tenant is displaced. Tenants have no rights in this scenario. That is why a Tenant Bill of Rights is important. These property owners don’t take into account the families and lives they are impacting. When did housing become more about profit and less about people? Nobody is asking for free housing. But our lives shouldn’t be under the control of property owners only concerned with increasing profits.

Due to red lining, racism, and segregation, the number of African Americans owning homes isn’t equal in Lexington. We have organizations that advocate for the Housing Trust Fund, which is supposed to help finance affordable housing. People need housing now. Why not show concern for people fighting to stay housed at this time? Why shouldn’t I have a home to plant flowers with my children in the spring? When did people lose their sense of humanity and care more about bank accounts than give an opportunity to a first time homeowner?

I moved into my current home less than a year ago. I’m being displaced. My children are just now getting over the trauma of being displaced before. They have to get used to a new place, make new friends, and possibly move schools. Right now, my son with special needs has the resources nearby that he requires. What happens if we can’t find that again?

I’m not the only person in Lexington experiencing this. In my opinion, we have a right to housing stability. And not to be at the mercy of property owners looking out for their own bottom line and not the needs of families looking to build a stable life. The community benefits when people can count on safe and affordable housing. Children get educated. Families establish support systems. Stability contributes to the future success of the children. It is a win/win for the families and the community. It can be a reality. But not until we stop putting profits before the needs of the community. People over profits.

Davita Gatewood is the Lexington-Fayette NAACP Housing Chair. She also works with Housing Equity for All of Lexington (HEAL).