Inner City Diary
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Landlords live with tough decisions
December 23, 2001
I still remember my first eviction.

Our church was one week into our first experience managing rental housing. I came in cocky. We were going to be better than all those greedy slum landlords who didn’t care about their buildings.

I was sure that a few chats with residents, a little elbow grease and a couple of coats of paint would work miracles. But dreams of management were soon replaced with realities of damage control.

Several suites in the old building were filled with gang members who felt that intimidating the caretaker would exempt them from paying rent. There was blood splattered on a hallway ceiling from a fight in which a prostitute was hit in the head with a hammer. Some of the doors barely closed after having been kicked open once too often. Drunks who forgot their keys kicked in their own doors. Thieves pried open doors to finance addictions or collect collateral for bad debts.

Dean was one of our sniffer tenants. The odour clinging to his body and clothes was so bad that the smell of solvents came as a relief. He came by the church and complained about cockroaches in his suite.
One week into the landlord gig, I thought I would be quick with a response. I purchased two cans of Raid, one for him and one for me. I knocked on his door, ready to be a good landlord.

When he opened the door, I wanted to quit and run away. The stench seemed to reach down through my nostrils to wrench at my stomach. I almost lost my lunch on the floor. Not that it would have been out of place. Old chicken bones, food wrappers and moldy potato wedges from many meals were laying on the floor. The roaches seemed almost confused with the multitude of choices.

Everywhere I looked I saw garbage, dirty clothes and soiled bare mattresses on the floor. As I moved into the kitchen I noticed that the fridge contained only some margarine and a little pop. Most of the cupboards were bare, except for one which contained months of rotting garbage. I guess he occasionally cleared the floors to find a place to sleep.

Fighting through nausea, I confronted Dean with the fact that his housekeeping made my pesticide irrelevant. But we still gave him a second chance. We helped him clean the place, but in two weeks it was just as bad. It became plain that to get rid of the roaches I had to get rid of Dean. He didn’t take it well. On the way out, he and his friends tore up the suite and wiped feces on what was left of the walls.

We slowly cleared others out the building as well. I took no pleasure in the evictions. With each person that left I lost more hope. I began to despair of being able to change a neighbourhood if we couldn’t convince a few people to change. I wondered if, without tenants, we would have the income to pay bills and make necessary repairs.

I couldn’t sleep after evicting Shirley, because I was afraid for her safety. But her friends and visitors were endangering everyone else in the building.

I remember evicting Wally and Elwood, two infamous neighbourhood sniffers. I explained that they had to leave because they were making our building unsafe and had refused every offer of assistance to control their problems.

But sending them away was like letting go of any hope that they would change. I told them I was afraid they would soon be dead. I felt like I was just telling them to die elsewhere so they wouldn’t take everyone else down with them. The thought overwhelmed us, and the three of us hugged and cried in the hallway. No animosity, just sadness. We all apologized for things we couldn’t and wouldn’t change – but still regretted.

Every day, people make choices that either help or hinder their health and safety. Our dreams and our choices are always impacted by the choices of others. Everyone’s emotional and material resources are limited. As landlords, we choose to give priority to those who have made, or are in the process of making, healthy choices.

If we’re not on the same page, lots of time and money is wasted.

Revitalizing communities, like revitalizing buildings, involves more than lofty dreams. It sometimes involves difficult choices. Maybe when more of us share the same dream, the choices will become easier.
Copyright 2001
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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Contact info:
New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929
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