Melissa Harris-Perry: We've been talking about a potential housing crisis caused by the looming expiration of the CDC eviction moratorium. At the center of this crisis are queer and trans folk, especially in Black and Latino communities in the US south. The alliance to end homelessness identified a critical shortage of shelters in the western and southern states a full year before the pandemic even began. TheAtlanta Journal and Constitution conducted a study that found that Black tenants living in predominantly Black neighborhoods are most likely to face eviction by aggressive landlords.
Take these racial and regional realities and notice that they intersect with the long-term reality that members of LGBTQ communities experience 120% higher risk of homelessness. In many southern states, it's a common practice to turn away trans folk from shelters for the homeless, especially shelters run by religious organizations.
Mariah Moore: Most trans people, especially Black trans people, and trans people of color will experience massive barriers to housing, employment opportunities, transportation, access to health care, and the ability to obtain gender-affirming identity documentation. That is why we've created House of Tulip.
Melissa: Based in New Orleans House of Tulip is a nonprofit organization that's buying and restoring multifamily properties to create permanent housing for Black trans people and other trans people of color. During a recent trip to New Orleans, I spent some time with the executive director, Mariah Moore. Mariah invited me to one of the House of Tulip residences, where we were joined by community members, and by my 19-year-old daughter, who rode along with me to the interview, and who was very impressed.
Speaker 3: It looks gorgeous in here and there's so much space for everyone to be themselves like, wow.
Melissa: That reaction is exactly what House of Tulip is going for, Mariah explained.
Mariah: We want people when they walk through the door, if they're feeling down about their life, as I have felt many, many times before, you walk into a place that is welcoming and warm and it is of a certain standard, and you take pride in it like you're happy to be here.
Mariah: It's not cold and facility-like.
Melissa: The house is a classic New Orleans double shotgun. Two people share the unit on the left and three will ultimately share the three-bedroom unit where we met. The square footage isn't enormous, but the house has two fully renovated bathrooms, high ceilings, an open format kitchen with white cabinets, and granite countertops. It does indeed feel like home.
Mariah: It's empty right now, but when they move in the refrigerator will be full. Everything will be full. They'll have Visa gift cards, they'll have Winn Dixie gift cards, they'll have all the nice beautiful hygiene essentials that we've listened and gathered for them, to let them know that we care, but also just be like, "This is your start you'll have what you need and then we're just going to continue to help you along the way." We'll pull back eventually and be like, "You've got this."
Mariah: "You got this, don't call me for no meal."
Melissa: In the beginning, supportive housing extends far beyond the safe, beautiful space to live and a fridge full of food. For Mariah, wraparound care is deeply personal and hands-on.
Mariah: When the very first person moved in on the other side, they told me like, "Girl, I don't know how to cook anything." I'm like, "Well, I'm going to come by on Sunday, I'm going to teach you how to cook fish." I was showing them how to do the fish and they were like, "I feel so loved." I was like, "Pay attention. I don't share my recipe, honey." They can cook it for themselves and then, beautiful.
Melissa: You brought some loaves, you brought some fishes next thing you know the multitude. Yes.
Mariah: I sat on the couch over there and fell asleep until the food was good.
I have witnessed so many times in different places that I visited that provide support, people are so policed, it was important to lead with trust.
Melissa: Leading with trust is a core value guiding the expensive work of the House of Tulip. I asked Mariah about the decision to tackle such an ambitious set of goals, given that House of Tulip is still a young organization with very modest financial resources.
Mariah: People just kept saying anything like, "Well, we can't do this and this is not possible and well we're a long way off from that," and when you heard that all your life and experience that and then also start thinking about some of these phrases are the reasons why I've experienced these disparities, it's like, "Well, if not me, then who and then when. When are we going to start saying we can do it, we're going to find a way. We're going to fight harder, we're going to do everything that we need to do." The government has continuously failed, we can do it, we just choose not to.
Melissa: For Mariah, the failures of the system are at least in part because it's simply chosen not to take the time, or spend the resources necessary to care for the most vulnerable. House of Tulip is working hard to make different choices. Of course, none of this means that communal living environments made possible by the House of Tulip are free of challenges or discord. Still, rather than adhering to a policy of zero tolerance or threatened expulsion, Mariah and her team lead with trust, which means beginning with conversation.
Mariah: Of course, we come by regularly, we check-in, we sit down and talk and people communicate what they need, or if they're having conflict, which we've had some conflict between some of our community members, but we just say, "Hey, we have to work this out."
Melissa: This strategy of beginning with conversation and trust is foundational from Mariah's understanding of how we solve many social problems.
Mariah: We have to ask ourselves, "Was it the moment that we stopped knowing our neighbors that we started experiencing more crime? Was it the disinvestment of community and community support where we started to feel insecure and unsure about our safety when we walked out of our front door?"
Melissa: Walking out the front door, and knowing the neighbors is not just rhetoric. Mariah took me around the neighborhood, where we chatted with several members of the community.
Mariah: Hello, there.
Speaker 4: Hello.
Mariah: How you doing? I'm Mariah Moore.
Speaker 4: How are you doing?
Mariah: I'm good.
Speaker 5: Also, you doing house calls you popping up.
Mariah: I'm happy, I was coming by, I'm trying to see what the vibe going to be? You've been getting what you need to take care of yourself?
Speaker 6: Trying to.
Mariah: What are some of the things that you think you need, or you know you need?
Melissa: During our time together I listened as Mariah repeatedly asked the question, "What do you need?" She also asked, "What would you change if you could?"
Speaker 7: I really don't know. It's a lot. Crime is one thing, but more power in Black hands. It's not really dispersed, even these more one-sided-- [crosstalk]
Mariah: Given representation.
Speaker 7: -yes, giving us the ability to make changes in our neighborhood.
Melissa: This young man's message of change resonated with Mariah, and frankly, with all of us who were walking along with her on that afternoon. He asked for more power in the hands of Black folk, so that communities can make changes in their own neighborhoods. It is precisely this idea, which underlies the work of Mariah Moore and the House of Tulip.
Mariah: These hands, our hands, our people's hands who are inherently gifted.
Melissa: Mariah Moore is Executive Director of House of Tulip, last week she also became a political candidate for the very first time when she qualified to run in a crowded primary to represent District D on the New Orleans City Council. Now, we here at the takeaway would love to hear from you about the ways you're using your hands to make a difference in your community. What challenges have you identified and how have you organized to make a difference? Call us at 877-869-8253 or record a voice memo and email it to email@example.com.
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