City Commissioner Porter calls on governor DeSantis to halt evictions
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
City Commissioner Jack Porter was joined by community leaders, representatives of legal aid agencies and advocated for the disenfranchised in a call on Gov. Ron DeSantis to reinstate an eviction moratorium during the pandemic.
Without action by the governor, Leon County and surrounding areas could see a dramatic increase in eviction and a spike in homelessness, Porter said. She spoke at a press conference last Thursday in front of City Hall, where the local NAACP and service organizations also joined the call for action from the governor.
Since last March when the pandemic outbreak began to affect the country, hundreds of people have lost their jobs locally.
Intervention by DeSantis is so urgent that if he doesn’t act, a health crisis could be triggered as people are forced to move in with loved ones or into to homeless shelters. Porter pointed to at least 438 known cases of pending evictions in the area. The number could spike upward if the state doesn’t put a moratorium in place by Dec. 31 when a current CDC order against evictions expires.
DeSantis rescinded a no-eviction order for the state in September when the CDC issued its order. What individuals and families are facing it “heartbreaking,” Porter said.
“With thousands of people in precarious financial position facing eviction, Governor DeSantis, state and federal leaders please use every measure that is in your control to help these people avoid personal catastrophe and community upheaval,” Porter pleaded.
She added: “This is a critical occasion; a time of grave concern for us in Tallahassee, across the state and across the nation as we face perhaps the most urgent housing crisis of our lifetime.”
Navy veteran Titus Stallworth is proof of how severe eviction is in Tallahassee. He told his plight at the press conference but he almost didn’t show up if he didn’t find free parking.
“I couldn’t even stop at a meter and put a quarter in to come here,” he said. “No money, no nothing. I’m just telling my story.”
His story is that he lost his job when churches were forced to limit congregation size. Stallworth, who said he is a gospel singer, found himself out of work when churches began to downsize.
“It was an almost depressed state of mind because I was used to going and I was used to having my own,” said Stallworth, who is living with a sister. “I could have paid all my bills and still had extra money to help my niece. When you have people looking to you for help and you can’t help them anymore, it’s devastating.”
Senator Loranne Ausley shared some astounding numbers about individuals who can’t afford the basic cost of living. At least 1 in 5 or 150,000 people in the Big Bend are facing food insecurity,” she said.
Homelessness as a result of eviction compounds the problem, she said.
“Many of these families are also at risk of losing their shelter,” Ausley said. “Many have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Parents have had to stay home to take care of their kids because they cannot afford childcare.”
That’s a situation that Adner Marcelin, president of the Tallahassee chapter of the NAACP, knows too well. The NAACP is handling a mounting number of eviction cases with the help of volunteer attorneys, he said.
He’s also assisted with cases, said Marcelin, a personal injury attorney.
“I personally as a landlord have done my part by working with tenants that rent from me,” he said. “I think we all need to step up and do something because humanity is not something that we should negotiate for.”
Legal Service of North Florida and the Legal Aid Foundation of Tallahassee also participated in the press conference. The two agencies are currently helping victims of evictions.
The Big Bend Continuum of Care also made an appeal to DeSantis.
“We are calling on our federal and state leaders to help us do even better and make sure this is a crisis that we can manage,” said the agency’s executive director, Amanda Wander.
Criminal defense attorney Mutaqee Akbar said some individuals who are faced with eviction are in the situation because they might have made a choice to purchase other essentials and put off paying rent.
“No matter the reason, our government should be compassionate enough to extend the moratorium,” Akbar said. “If we do not our community will be inundated with more homelessness; not just individuals, but families, children. We are bigger than this and better than this and I urge all who can do something about it to do so.”