THE STRUGGLE TO STAY HOME IN REDWOOD CITY
Stasha Powell, 44, is a tenant rights leader who has been working on housing justice in Redwood City. She is passionate about historical properties and is a volunteer tutor. Not only has she braved a battle with an autoimmune disease, but she has also lived on the brink of homelessness.
Children tend to do best in stable households, where they know what to expect and feel (perhaps subconsciously) that their relationships, health, and safety are basically secure. Undergoing repeated transitions can cause stress by threatening this feeling and undermining kids' and their parents' sense of control over their lives. Stasha had a challenging childhood. Her parents got divorced when she was only two and she faced long periods of housing instability at a very young age.
Against all odds, Stasha did pretty well for herself. She moved to California when she was seventeen and gained twenty years of experience in administrative support and affordable housing. In 2015, she required major knee surgery and during recovery due to some complications doctors had to remove Powell's gallbladder. While she was trying to recover, her landlord more than doubled her rent. On the verge of being homeless, Stasha started fighting for the rights of renters, she believes that only strong rent stabilization and just cause evictions would provide meaningful protections for renters. She recently moved into a new residence using housing assistance, but only after months of struggle.
“The websites given to me by the housing authority for apartments that accept Section 8 haven’t had a single unit show up available over the last 3 months. If I didn’t find someone to take my voucher or if I lost my housing assistance before I’ve ever even gotten a chance to use it, I may have ended up homeless”
- Stasha Powell
“Because my last landlord refused to take my housing assistance, I began to search for an apartment where I could use my Section 8 (The housing choice voucher which provides assistance to very low-income families to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing), Almost 95% of the ads and listings for available units stated that no housing voucher will be accepted. The websites given to me by the housing authority for apartments that accept Section 8 haven’t had a single unit show up available over the last 3 months. If I didn’t find someone to take my voucher or if I lost my housing assistance before I’ve ever even gotten a chance to use it, I may have ended up homeless”
Powell believes that Redwood City can do so much better; “For far too long city has kowtowed to the developers, what they want, not often enough listened to the tenants. We are 49% of the city; I wish they’d listen to us. We have a bunch of tech giants here but I feel that people are moving towards isolation. The tenants who live in my building, all work volunteer jobs, we have a community oriented mindset but now we are left on our own with not much support or relief.”
“For far too long city has kowtowed to the developers, what they want, not often enough listened to the tenants. We are 49% of the city; I wish they’d listen to us.”
- Stasha Powell
While talking about the stress, she says: “it’s too much to deal with; the emotional part is pretty taxing. All the emotions from when I was homeless as a kid came up. The fact that I have lived here in this place for 17 years, that’s longer than I have lived anywhere in my whole life, this is my home. My neighbors are my family.” Recently while she was packing she found an old list, which she made when she was twelve; of all the things she wants to accomplish by the time she turns 45. “I have accomplished almost everything except for one, to own my own house. So I have seven more months till my forty fifth birthday” laughingly she said.
One of her favorite places to go is Redwood library. Last month she began volunteering as a tutor for Project Reads at the Redwood City library:
Powell has been tutoring 4th-grader David, who has Cerebral Palsy. David’s mother Eva spoke about David’s relationship with Powell: “My son is really happy with her, he says she understands him. We tried other private tutors before but he didn’t open up to anyone. David has special needs and Stasha is really perceptive and attentive towards him. It’s like she knows him from ages”
While recovering from her surgery, testifying for housing bills to protect tenants rights, taking care of her asthmatic, toothless, tripod cat; Saint Trey, and trying to find a place to live, Powell still takes out time to give to her community, unconditionally. Stasha understands tenants issues: “it’s hard for renters to go public with their private struggles, especially in my county because we face all sorts of harassment and intimidation.” That’s why she is encouraging people to share their testimony with her: “I will read it to the city council without disclosing names because we need to help each other out.” She’s trying to educate the local residents who are against safe parking lot for homeless living out of vehicles, by explaining to them that it’s less about cleanliness and more about subconscious biases and economic status.
Many people experiencing this perpetual state of eviction limbo or homelessness have done nothing to deserve that— everyone needs a sense of belonging and deserves a place to call home.
*Some names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.