Upon first glance, Munoz Realty appears to be a real estate company that is invested in Detroiters and the community. The front entrance of their Michigan Avenue location is donned with Christmas decorations, and the window is lined with photos documenting Munoz’s charitable acts, such as building a ramp for a local disabled woman and assisting with an overgrowth clean up at a school in Southwest Detroit.
However, Munoz Realty’s long list of neglectful behavior stands in stark contrast to the well-disposed image they curate for themselves. Poorly done repairs, flooded basements, and fire hazards are among the many issues uncovered at Munoz Realty properties, in addition to even more concerning problems such as lead exposure and accumulation of sewage.
On November 18, Moratorium NOW! Coalition, Detroit Eviction Defense, Detroit Tenants Association, General Baker Institute, and the Detroit Club of the CPUSA mobilized fellow tenant rights activists to rally outside of Munoz Realty in response to the poor conditions of their rental properties.
Nearly 38,000 Detroit households report living in inadequate housing conditions, with renters being more likely to live under poor conditions than homeowners. In a city where the majority of residents are renters, issues such as exposure to lead, defective plumbing, and crumbling infrastructure makes the need for safe and affordable housing even more pressing.
It is alleged that various Munoz properties are not registered with the City of Detroit and do not have Certificates of Compliance. Compliance with the city’s rental ordinance includes passing a rental inspection, obtaining a lead clearance, and paying outstanding fees or blight tickets. Regulation of rental properties is also required by state law. Despite this, only 8% of Detroit rental properties are in compliance, making it apparent that unregulated housing is an issue that spans far beyond Munoz Realty.
“Detroit’s housing problems are not new… Because of segregation, because of racism, because of greed,” said Yvonne Jones from Moratorium NOW! Coalition.
“We don’t want any more bad actors to be able to prey on our most vulnerable citizens … poor, working class, single mothers and their children,” Jones expressed. “We are here today because we know when we stand together and fight, we can win. We have won [before], and we will continue to win.”
Tenants and activists demand the following from Munoz Realty and the City of Detroit:
- Stop evictions now
- Repair illegal and dangerous rentals
- Provide quality low-income housing
- Fully fund the Right to Counsel
- Stop lead poisoning tenants
- Munoz Realty to pay their blight tickets
In addition to demanding tenant rights, organizers also seek justice for workers. Activists called on Munoz Realty to pay the funeral costs of Jerson Ruben Angeles, a worker from Honduras who died on the worksite of a Munoz property from carbon monoxide poisoning last November.
Gaston Munoz, the head of Munoz Realty, owns countless rental properties across the city of Detroit. Munoz’s ability to continue to operate while his properties are clearly out of code raises the question of the city’s role in allowing Detroiters to live in these conditions. Many in attendance felt that the city enables this type of activity, considering that Munoz has received two Spirit of Detroit awards from Detroit City Council.
“We need to hold Munoz responsible, we need to hold the City of Detroit responsible, and we need to hold Mike Duggan responsible,” declared Cynthia Johnson, District 5 House Representative.
The city’s negligence is also reflected in the failure to implement Right to Counsel, an ordinance that would provide legal representation for those facing eviction. Detroit activists are demanding a halt on evictions until the city fully funds and implements Right to Counsel, which was supposed to begin on the first of October. Since October, nearly 2,000 tenants have been wrongly evicted.
On November 22, Detroit City Council held their last meeting of the year. Residents and activists showed up to express their demands for an eviction moratorium. Despite Councilmember Angela Whitfield-Calloway acknowledging the harsh winter to come, the Council opted not to impose the moratorium until they return from their break in January. They claim the Right to Counsel ordinance will take effect in January as well.
Inaccessible legal counsel and poor housing conditions are deeply intertwined, both exemplifying the power imbalance between tenant and landlord. Detroit landlords are 8.6 times more likely than tenants to have legal representation, and nearly 9 out of 10 eviction cases are linked to properties that are not up to code.
The struggle to obtain safe, affordable, and stable housing for low-income and working class Detroiters is not new, nor will it cease anytime soon. As tenant rights activists continue to strategize, they have made it clear that the fight to hold Munoz and other predatory landlords accountable is far from over. It will require a larger mass movement to create a world that prioritizes people’s needs such as housing over profit, which Detroiters are steadily building through working class solidarity and ongoing collective action.
Images: Detroit Eviction Defense organizer Taura Brown speaks to fellow rally goers outside Munoz Realty (photo by CPUSA Detroit); a protester holds a Moratorium NOW! Coalition poster (photo by CPUSA Detroit); Moratorium NOW! Coalition flier (photo by CPUSA Detroit); Detroit Tenants Association organizer Steven Rimmer takes the mic at the tenants’ rally (photo by CPUSA Detroit)
Source: Communist Party U.S.A.