Rev. Michael Robert Vanzant is a pastor at Faith Temple in the District.
Soon after the greed-caused housing crisis, I became disabled and had to request disability leave. I was making my mortgage payments, every month, on time. A couple of months after my disability leave, I was unable to continue making the original payments.
I called the bank. Their response? Foreclosure was imminent.
After bearing months of health issues obscured by the stress brought on by the possibility of displacement and homelessness, I sit with strong belief that people power will allow us to reclaim what’s ours.
Late Monday evening, I suffered a stroke and needed an ambulance right away. Upon their arrival, ambulances were greeted with community members hanging outside their homes, waiting to find out what happened.
“What’s going on?” they shouted. “Is Rev. Vazant okay?” they asked.
I have been in my house since 1988. It’s just a nice neighborhood — a lot of people I was comfortable to be around.. Endless enjoyable nights. You get to walk down the street, people say “hi,” you say “hi.” People talk to each other. There’s community.
Tucked between Queens Chapel and Petworth, my neighborhood is one of the oldest and most diverse neighborhoods in D.C. Historically it has been home to working-class communities of color and it continues to be populated as such.
But now it was clear, the mortgage on my home of 24 years was at risk and it would be the next to suffer from the foreclosure crisis.
I write this today sitting on a hospital bed while my friends take on the bank. I sit uncomfortably, itching to be with friends, community members, organizers from all over D.C. raise their collective voices to demand that the human right to housing be recognized and be protected, so I and others like me can stay in our homes.
Like what any “careful” homeowner would do, I applied for loan assistance from a mortgage company. But the bank quickly pushed forward with a foreclosure sale, even though I had applied for modification and offered to make payments.
An eviction notice was posted in August.
While I am forced to be at the hospital for a couple of more days, I will not stop fighting back.
Too many people in D.C. silently struggle, oftentimes in shame, to maintain a safe living space while financial institutions shamelessly make profits that put more and more D.C. residents on the streets. I continue this fight because our city can no longer afford our local government’s poor response to the housing crisis and the greed of big banks.
Our government bailed out the banks while many of us struggle to survive. Where is our bailout?
The foreclosures crisis is a symptom of institutionalized racism and our governments failure to acknowledge housing as a basic human right.
I watch countless vacant homes sit empty for years while people are forced into displacement and homelessness. Our neighborhoods are lacking spaces to socialize, engage in activities and find places for worship. Spaces that do exist are sometimes not safe spaces for the LGTBQ community, which is one of the many interconnected struggles with housing.
Housing is critical to the health and well-being of residents. Given the need for safe spaces, in particular for low-income communities of color, the elderly and the LGBTQ community I started Faith Temple, a historic safe space for the LGBTQ community of color. It has been around since 1982, and it has been the only place where they could go to without the fear of violence they often faced in the streets, schools, workplaces and churches.
This fight is about a right to housing and a right to a community. My neighborhood is a community that has been a long-standing refuge for me and for many communities of color. My home in particular has provided a safe space for the LGTBQ community, particularly LGBTQ elderly of color. I am not asking to live for free. I am willing to pay. It’s terrifying having to think about being out on the streets at my age.