Cobb tenant advocate’s eviction highlights struggles of working poor

File photo: Monica DeLancy, founder of the We Thrive in Riverside Renters Association, stands for a photo in Marietta, Thursday, February 21, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

File photo: Monica DeLancy, founder of the We Thrive in Riverside Renters Association, stands for a photo in Marietta, Thursday, February 21, 2019. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

As founder of the We Thrive in Riverside Renters Association, Monica DeLancy spent years advocating for tenants and calling out negligent landlords in south Cobb.

She organized summer activities for children with nowhere else to go. She gave rides to commission meetings. She encouraged renters to file complaints against properties plagued by rats, mold and leaks.

Now, she’s facing the same predicament she’s helped countless others navigate.

DeLancy and her two children were evicted from their apartment Thursday. On Friday, the eviction was temporarily vacated by a judge, who then set Dec. 20 as the new date for DeLancy’s eviction hearing.

DeLancy will have a chance to argue her case in court, but she said the trauma of the experience cannot be erased. Her family is sharing a room in a motel while many of their personal belongings remain locked in the old apartment — she hopes.

“My daughter’s diploma was in there,” DeLancy said. “All the awards I won. My kids’ pictures. I just want to go in and get my stuff and go from there.”

Speaking from the motel, DeLancy said she fell into a vicious cycle that affects millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck.

DeLancy works part-time as a parent resource specialist with the Cobb County School District. She said she needs the flexibility of part-time work in order to take care of her son, 17, who is disabled. Her daughter, 19, is a college sophomore studying political science. DeLancy said she does not receive any government assistance for housing or food.

“Having limited income, you just do what you have to do to maintain,” she said. “When you get paid once a month and you’re trying to pay your rent and transportation, just your basic needs … you have to juggle things around.”

It was this juggling act that she said led her to accept her landlord’s offer to pay rent in installments, even though it cost her $200 in late fees every month. Then, in July, she was charged an additional $50 for trash the apartment management said was left outside her door.

DeLancy said she was informed her lease would not be renewed in August, after disputing the charge.

DeLancy then filed for bankruptcy shortly after receiving news about her lease, according to court records. That bought her time she said she needed to find new housing. When she failed to show up for a court hearing Nov. 8, the judgment defaulted against her.

DeLancy says she never received notification of the hearing. Being a tenant advocate and having faced eviction before, DeLancy said she never would have intentionally skipped a court date.

“I’ve been to eviction court, so I know this process,” she said.

On Thursday, DeLancy was shocked to find two sheriff’s deputies on her doorstep. They told her and her children, including her daughter who was home from college for the holidays, to gather their valuables and get out immediately while movers hired by the apartment complex boxed up the rest of their things.

A person who answered the phone at the complex told a reporter she could not give out any information on tenants. A spokesperson for the county said it had no active tenant complaints for those apartments and no open code enforcement cases against the property.

According to the court order vacating DeLancy’s eviction, there was confusion about the address to which notification of the Nov. 8 hearing should have been sent. As a result, the chief magistrate vacated the eviction Friday and set a new hearing for next week.

DeLancy said she plans to stay at the motel through the weekend and then evaluate her options. Given the opportunity, she would like to move back into her old apartment. Her priority is making sure her daughter goes back to college after the holidays.

Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid has known DeLancy for years through her advocacy work. She commended DeLancy for being open about her financial troubles.

“This is a story I’ve heard time and time again, about how difficult it is to cover the expense of housing, let alone other life expenses,” she said. “There is an issue of housing affordability in Cobb and in the metro area.”

Cupid said the county’s zoning laws make it difficult to create a range of housing options in all areas of the county. That leads to a dearth of affordable housing generally while creating concentrated pockets of poverty, which leads to other problems, the commissioner said.

“There needs to be a shared policy and vision about all communities, regardless of income,” Cupid said.

For DeLancy, her experience with eviction has hardened her resolve to continue her advocacy work — including running for the seat Cupid will vacate in 2020, having announced her candidacy for county chair.

“Now that I’ve experienced being put out … It’s going to make me help even more,” DeLancy said. “I don’t want anyone else to go through this.”