November 19, 2021
This month we say farewell to Juan Carlos Silen, who has served as a housing attorney at the Public Justice Center. We are grateful for his work with Baltimore tenants to prevent evictions and wish him all the best as he establishes his own practice in immigration law. Juan Carlos reflects on his time at the PJC:
One year is not enough. That thought crosses my mind as I embark in this new journey. The work that the Housing Team and the Public Justice Center does is special. Not only do we directly serve people that need our services but also attack problems from different angles through litigation and community organizing. The problems of inequality and racism are typically discussed in academic and non-profit environments. However, the best way to really see these problems is to spend a day in rent court. During this past year, the people at risk of being evicted were consistently African-American, low-income, women. Also, white and Latine households that typically had the same thing in common – their jobs were affected because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, the tenants we serve lived paycheck to paycheck and, after losing their job, homelessness was one step away. The common denominator? Poverty or low income and a resulting lack of agency in the court case.
When representing tenants in rent court, I witnessed how landlords and the court system generally lacked empathy and dismissed the credibility of tenants who were days away from being homeless – with the exception of a limited number of landlords and court personnel. These parties are often completely desensitized to the sufferings of the tenants who have struggled during this pandemic. Instead of treating housing as a human right, housing becomes just another commodity. In the middle of a global pandemic and economic recession, one judge told me: “Where is the justice for landlords”?
Unfortunately, these actors that I mention forget their humanity and humility. It is not about “providing homes” as some of them claim; it is about getting money, earnings, and being vengeful. My one year has not been enough. I was glad to help everyone I could, gain experience in court, and successfully present arguments, such as the lack of standing that an unlicensed landlord has to file tenant holding over actions and winning several emergency motions stopping evictions at the last minute. Regardless of my individual victories, the change has to come on a broader scale and legislators need to act to give more tools to tenants who, for example, are harassed by landlords or live in properties with severe conditions issues such as mold.
I hope that the effect of our work on the lives of the people we help creates a wave of conscience-raising to fight against injustice and break the barriers of the past. Baltimore, Maryland, and the United States can be a better place for everyone, but those who are elected by the people have to work for the ones who elect them, not for the wealthy few.
Lastly, I want to thank the Housing Team and the Public Justice Center for giving me the opportunity to work and grow as a person and as a lawyer during my time here. Stay strong and fight on!