On April 13, Professors Iris Ford and Helen Daugherty orchestrated a class and community discussion on the topic of eviction. The event centered around four panelists: Dennis Nicholson, the executive director of the St. Mary’s Housing Authority, Kerry Miciotto, a team leader for the St. Mary’s county Department of Social Services, H.S. “Lanny” Lancaster, the Executive Director of the Three Oaks Center, and Sarah Martin, a co-founder of the WARM (Wrapping Arms ‘Round Many) program and a representative of Faith Community Church.
Each of the institutions represented at the discussion serve a specific need for the St. Mary’s community. The Housing Authority in St. Mary’s county focuses on providing affordable housing for all who need it and revitalizing neighborhoods, while the Three Oaks Shelter serves as temporary housing for those who need it. In a similar vein, Faith Community Church views itself as an institution with the capacity to help individuals in more than a materialistic sense. Sarah Martin was adamant in her belief that both of the organizations she represented focused on establishing relationships with individuals so that aid would go beyond monetary or physical aid and the parameters of government funded organizations.
One question addressed in the panel was the impact of churches and shelters on the community with regard to the role of Social Services and the Housing Authority. This question was not only addressed in the panel, but also in the individual classes professors Daugherty and Ford brought to the discussion.
Both classes read the work Evicted by Matthew Desmond in preparation for the panel. Desmond’s book, much like the community panel, gave the audience a sense of the dynamic that exists between tenants, landlords, and outside departments like the Housing Authority. The discussion focused on varying perceptions of the Department of Social Services with regard to media portrayals of the department as “menacing,” countering these images by arguing that the department exists for the health and well-being of County residents. The panel was successful in debunking the claim that eviction is a step that is frequently, if not eagerly taken, by landlords. In fact, the panelists and author Matthew Desmond described eviction as a process that is only carried out as a last resort.
Loss of financial gain as well as the bureaucratic element of petitioning the local law enforcement agency for a forced eviction both play roles in the attempt of landlords to exhaust every alternative venue before turning to eviction. The panelists encouraged the audience to think about the luxury that housing provides, noting that it is used for celebrations and an environment in which children build identities and memories, as well as its status as a central element of the American dream.
The most significant aspect the panelists encouraged the audience to think about is the luxury housing provides. It is a place where one can talk, and laugh, and celebrate. Children build memories and identities in the space known as home. It is where the weight of everyday life can be briefly cast off before the dawn of the next day. Most importantly, it’s a source of pride, one of the core pillars of the American dream, and one that is undoubtedly worth defending.