Tag Archives: ACO

Debt Means “Can’t Win for Losing”

Ponce       Arkansas Community Organizations, one of KABF and ACORN’s partners on many projects, especially those involving financial security for low-and-moderate income families, recently released a report about major debt that is oppressing these families.  The report is called “Can’t Win for Losing,” and that just about says it all, but digging into its outreach and conclusions is shocking even to the most jaded among us.

This isn’t just an Arkansas or southern problem, but a national one.  It just affects southern states like Arkansas more, which is why the Annie B. Casey Foundation created the Southern Partnership to Reduce Debt, including ACO, ACI, and a number of other national and southern nonprofit organizations. The report doesn’t sugarcoat the problem, but jumps right into it from the first paragraphs:

A recent study by the Urban Institute revealed that 33% of all Americans have debt in collections. That percentage is closer to 40% in Arkansas. The research shows that there are significant disparities along the fault lines of race and class, with low-income people of color bearing the greatest debt burden. In Arkansas, 36% of white households have debt in collections compared to 58% of black and brown households. The burden falls most heavily on people of color because of the stark differences in household income. The average income for white households in Arkansas is $63,887, while black and brown households in Arkansas bring home an average of $43,749 each year.

When the Arkansas Community Institute, the tax-exempt research arm of ACO, surveyed more than 1800 people in Pulaski and Jefferson Counties, who used the organization’s tax preparation services, the most common debt burdens also became very clear.

The total amount of debt reported by these community members was over $19 million.  The four major types of debt were student loans (493 respondents), hospital bills (478), auto loans (362), and court fines and fees (190).  Seventy percent (847) of those with debt said they were having problems making their payments. Forty-three percent (516) of respondents had debt in collections.

Like they said, in these situations, families “can’t win for losing.”

The stories in the report are as heartrending as they are almost commonplace.  A grandmother supporting her grandchildren and herself on disability and social security with $2500 in court fines that began with an unpaid $59 dental bill where interest charges and late fees have accumulated over the twenty years she has been trying on limited income to pay off.  A woman with school debt from a technical program that went belly up before she got a degree that she thought was forgiven, but lingered on for thirty years and is now an obstacle in her current educational ambition.  It goes on and on.

When the report comes to “what’s to be done,” the recommendations are clear, but almost as depressing as the findings.  Many require national solutions like the ambitious programs proposed by some of the current candidates for presidency like Medicare for All or free tuition.  Others presume a kinder, gentler state than Arkansas or many others found in the south, but also a state with deeper pockets and richer citizens and institutions, whether judicial, medical, or educational, that understand affordability and citizen wealth as clearly as their primary missions.

Nonetheless, lawmakers and others need to pay attention to this report.  Even changes at the margins could mean huge differences for low-and-moderate income families.  Discretion is important in the way institutions and government deal with debt.  In dealing with families, mercy is as crucial as letter-of-the-law justice in a family’s economic survival.  There is a long “to do list” in this report, and there are many people that need to get into gear and start checking the boxes on what needs to be done.

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Little Rock Slumlord Highlights Tenant Abuse in Arkansas

source: https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/jan/13/code-violations-follow-landlord/

Little Rock       Imran Bohra is not exactly a household name everywhere in Pulaski County, where Little Rock and North Little Rock are located, but among lower income tenants, he’s famous in the worst of ways as a notorious slumlord.  He has about 150 properties that he rents in both cities with perhaps the bulk of them in North Little Rock.  Recently, his latest company, Entropy, and his practices got some much-needed attention after he evicted and seized the possession of Theodore Thompson, a tenant who is also a member of Arkansas Community Organizations (ACO), the former Arkansas ACORN, and their tenant organizing and advocacy project.

Of course, saying he was tenant is kind of a stretch in some ways because he was never given a key to his apartment after Bohra drove him to look at the place and kept his car idling outside while Thompson checked it out.  Supposedly, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, his property manager was supposed to drop the key by.  Thompson didn’t pay rent without the key and didn’t know where he was even supposed to pay his rent.  Then Thompson found an eviction note affixed to the door and Bohra seized all his belongings in the process, which amazingly is a landlord’s right in Arkansas.

Thompson, ACO, and the rest of us might ask how any of this is possible and how can it be stopped.  As Thompson says, “It’s hard for me to understand how I’m not the first, and if he’s not stopped, I definitely won’t be the last.”

Sadly, this seems to be just business-as-usual for Bohra and from talking to Neil Sealy, head organizer of ACO, many other slumlords in central Arkansas who operate with similar impunity.  Since the beginning of 2016, the newspaper found that Bohra’s properties had been cited for code violations 170 times in Little Rock and North Little Rock.  Many of Bohra’s tenants claim they believe he has no interest in making repairs because a big part of his business model is based on collecting security deposits, first and last month rent, and pyramiding his money based on quick evictions.

All of that is helped by the fact that Arkansas has arguably the worst laws protecting tenants in the country.  Without a doubt, Arkansas is the only state that has a statute that makes eviction a criminal offense!  What that really means is that a tenant either protesting and withholding their rent to pressure a landlord to make repairs, or a tenant falling behind on their rent is seen under Arkansas law to be effectively stealing from their landlord.

A landlord can also evict a tenant with three (3) days’ notice for any reason or no reason at all and file a notice of “unlawful detainer” in civil court.  As the Attorney General’s website details that’s not a pretty process:

Unlawful detainer actions require a landlord to provide you with a three days’ written notice to vacate. If you do not leave, the landlord can sue by filing a complaint against you in court. After you receive a summons to appear in court, you have five days to object in writing to the eviction. Any objection must be filed with the clerk of the court in which the eviction action was filed, and you should send a copy of your objection to the landlord’s lawyer. If you do not file an objection, you can be removed from the dwelling by the county sheriff. If you do object, a hearing will be scheduled to determine the outcome to your case.

If that’s not bad, it can actually get worse for tenants.  As one report noted:

Tenants who plead not guilty have to pay the amount the landlord says they owe to the court before they can get a trial. In the Little Rock suburb of Jacksonville, they’re held on $250 bail.

If criminalizing non-rent payment isn’t enough to make Arkansas the most landlord friendly state in the country, the fact that there is no “warrant of habitability” guaranteeing that the tenant is living in a safe dwelling also makes Arkansas the only state without such a promise to its citizens as well.

It’s fair to say that Arkansas has the worst landlord-tenant laws in the country.  How long can this be allowed to continue?

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Please enjoy Keith Richards’ Talk is Cheap 30th Anniversary Reissue. Thanks to KABF.

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