‘People are rising up.’ Madison County tenants say they’re facing a housing crisis

Madison County tenants rallied in Berea Saturday in response to what they say is a local housing and shelter crisis.

The rally was attended by about a dozen people who marched through town carrying signs with messages including “Housing is a human right” and “Landlords NEED tenants.”

They gathered outside City Hall in Berea and shared their concerns about housing, particularly what they said is a rising number of evictions in Madison County and the need for public funding for emergency shelter.

The event was organized by the Madison County Tenants Union, which recently opened a union hall in Berea.

“We have had to sleep in our cars, and pay for hotel rooms that we could not afford in order to have a place to stay,” a news release for the event stated. “We’ve faced unaffordable rising rents. We’ve faced wait-lists for public housing. Landlords refuse to accept our housing vouchers. Even when we are able to afford rent, we are trapped in neglected housing. Mold, maintenance issues, and code violations. We face these challenges every day, even though we are not the ones causing the crisis. We are the ones facing it.

“The fees to even submit an application to rent our housing are out of control. We’ve been nickel-and-dimed to death. Out of state corporate landlords are snapping up housing left and right. They grab our apartment complexes and immediately raise the rents.”

Michael Harrington, a local tenant and an organizer with the Madison County Tenants Union, told those in attendance that people living in an encampment off Exit 90 in Richmond were removed by police and saw their personal belongings destroyed in January.

“In devastation, there is opportunity,” Harrington said. “There’s an opportunity for us to organize and win.”

Tenants are mobilizing throughout the state to push for housing reform.

Harrington said in a telephone interview that the Madison County group is affiliated with Southern Crossroads, a network of local organizations working on similar issues in Tennessee and other parts of the South.

They’ve also formed connections with groups like the Louisville Tenants Union, Kentucky People’s Union in Ashland and KY Tenants, which has worked on initiatives in Lexington.

“There’s popup groups all across the state of Kentucky right now,” Harrington said. “The housing crisis is hitting everybody. It’s everywhere.

“Regular people are rising up to solve it by working together. Regular Kentuckians have the power to solve problems if we work together.”

But Harrington said there’s been pushback in Frankfort, including talk of an anti-public camping bill and measures that would prevent local governments from enacting tenant reforms.

Attendees Saturday called for Madison County’s state senator and state representatives to oppose such measures.

They also want the local fiscal court to contribute funding to emergency shelter services.

Harrington said the city of Richmond has provided public funding for a new shelter operated by MadisonHome in Richmond, and the group wants the county government to match it.