Hearing Voices: LaTanya Lloyd, tenant activist
Stories are often best told by the people who live them. With that in mind, I'd like to introduce to my corner of the Detroit Blog an occasional segment I call “Hearing Voices,” a series of first-person takes on the realities of life in our area.
LaTanya Lloyd, 39, is a wife and mother of two who helped lead fellow tenants of the Highland Towers Apartments, located in the Detroit enclave of Highland Park, in protests against utility provider DTE Energy. The pickets, sparked after the utility company cut the building's power in a payment dispute with the ownership, escalated into to legal action. On Sept. 11, after almost two weeks of residents living in the dark, a judge ordered DTE to turn the juice back on for a week so the 150 tenants could relocate. Lloyd explains what compelled her to fight (for) the power...
Me and my children were in our apartment back on Sept. 1 — when everything just suddenly went dark.
We talked to a few people, and we found out that all the power had gone off in the whole building. At first everybody was confused. But you know, it doesn't take very long to figure out that the utility company has turned off your lights. We just didn't know why.
When we got in touch with DTE, they told us that our lights were turned off because our landlord hadn't paid the utility bill. But that doesn't mean we didn't pay! The tenants paid every month. Our utilities were part of our rent.
It turned out that the owner had sold the building -- but we didn't know. We were just paying rent like we always did. The property manager took our rent for 15 months, knowing the building had been sold but not telling us they weren't paying the bills!
When we went to talk to DTE, it was like DTE just didn't...I hate to say it, but it was like they just didn't give a s***. One of the executives told us that the landlord owed over $150,000 to DTE. He said, "No, we're not turning the power back on. This is a business, and we're in business to make money."
We understood that the (past owner) hadn't paid the bill. All we wanted was for them to give us enough time to move. We weren't asking for a handout -- but not everybody has the money to move right away. Nobody here is rich. Plus, we had families to think about, too — older people, children. How can you come in and throw 80-something families out on the street? But it was like DTE didn't care.
A few days after the power went out, a man named Abayomi from Moratorium Now! approached us. Moratorium Now! works with people in the community to stop unfair evictions and foreclosures. And that's basically what this was – an unfair eviction. Once they got involved, things changed real fast. We got hooked up with Legal Aid and Defenders attorneys, and we took DTE court.
They still kept fighting us! They told the judge lies about giving us notice, things like that. We never saw any notice from them. Our notice was the power going out.
We're human beings, and we matter. And we just weren't going to let them do that to us without a fight. And we didn't.
And you know…we won.