This post was written in late 2007 and was originally published at www.saje.net, but the message resonates today.
What does ‘home’ mean to you?
To most of us, it’s something that we don’t often think about in the abstract. ‘Home’ is just where we live.
Markie Anderson lived in the Morrison Hotel for eight years. He lived in a studio with a private bathroom on the fourth floor and while it wouldn’t have been much to most folks, for him it was home. He was one of the last people to move out of the Hotel after the tenants’ two-year struggle against the slumlord owners.
However, living in the Morrison Hotel and fighting untenable conditions caused by the slumlords were extremely costly to Markie.
When he moved into the Hotel, Markie was in a wheelchair. During the course of his eight years at the Hotel, he lost his left leg from an infection which he attributed to the unhealthy conditions of his building. We could share some of the stories he used to tell our organizers about waking up and finding vermin crawling on his wounded leg, but, well, you can probably conjure up a pretty good picture yourself.
During his last three years at the Hotel, Markie’s private bathroom was out of order, and his repeated requests for repairs were ignored. The shared bathroom down the hall had a raised entryway that prevented wheelchair access.
In retaliation for housing complaints, the elevator was frequently out of order or intentionally shut down by the building’s thug-style management. As a result, Markie was literally trapped in his room for days at a time and, on occasion, had to pull himself up or down four flights of stairs.
Despite all that, Markie remained a leader. The Morrison Hotel was still his home and a home worth fighting for. As tenants began organizing with SAJE against the slumlords, they often drew strength from Markie’s intelligence, his analysis of the situation and his deep desire to stay and fight. Although he suffered from alcoholism, Markie was respected as a leader in the building by his diverse Latino, white, and native American neighbors.
The City eventually won a criminal complaint against the slumlord—21 criminal counts—the largest in two decades. Private attorneys won cash damages settlements for the tenants, including Markie.
But the building was never repaired and all of the tenants were ultimately evicted and displaced.
Let’s consider Markie’s situation for just a moment, and what it meant for him to lose his home.
Consider race, wheelchair access, poverty. Even in 2007 it is very difficult for an African American paraplegic to find housing. But finding permanent housing in the current market, in the context of huge competition and need, was virtually impossible. Markie, along with thousands of others who have been displaced from their homes because of aggressive redevelopment and real estate speculation, became homeless.
SAJE served as Markie’s address for mail and stored his belongings for him. And we always had an open door. He would stop in periodically to pick up a thing or two, or sometimes he’d come by just to say hi. Recently, his visits became less frequent.
Then, a few days ago, we heard that Markie had died.
We are so saddened by this loss. The coroners visited SAJE and we’re helping his family to the best of our ability. We located his sister—who is also homeless—and are assisting her with funeral and remembrance arrangements. Markie was only 35 years old.
In the midst of our sadness, we’re also filled with anger. There’s not a doubt in our minds that Markie would still be alive if he hadn’t been evicted from his home.
Slumlords around LA are working to have their buildings “delivered vacant” to the highest bidder. Reports, studies, panels and task forces abound to address the housing and homeless crisis.
To us at SAJE it is simple.
As long as existing affordable housing is run into the ground and flipped for profit, poor people lose and homelessness increases. As long as high-end buildings carry high vacancies rather than reducing rents, LA’s housing crisis grows.
Markie’s death is a brutal and unnecessary casualty of our fight for the right to the city, and hits particularly close to home for us.
Over the next few weeks, Mayor Villaraigosa will deliver his Housing Vision to interested people in communities around Los Angeles. We ask that he consider Markie’s life and what the City can do to prevent further displacement, loss, and homelessness.
At SAJE, Markie’s death is cause for deep sadness, but his legacy is also cause for inspiration. We are redoubling our efforts to stop the eviction and displacement of all poor people from Los Angeles.