Proposed tenant union sets priorities

Oct. 29—ANDERSON — A local group of residents wanting to create a tenants union in Madison County has shared several priorities.

The group, which met Thursday at the Anderson Impact Center, is working with Dee Ross, founder of the Indiana Tenants Association, to form a union in Anderson.

Priorities set included establishing the ability to put rent money into an escrow account when there are maintenance issues with landlords; ensuring a right to legal counsel; and supportive services for tenants.

"We should not be the leader in this," Kim Townsend, executive director of the Anderson Housing Authority, said. "This has to be a grassroots effort with the housing authority helping get organized."

She said the leadership of the proposed union should come from the tenants.

The group elected Chelsea Newell to be the coordinator for the local organization.

"Every tenant should have rights," Ross said. "Indiana is at the top of the charts when it comes to evictions."

Laurin Embry of the tenants association said people shouldn't be discouraged by a lack of attendance at the Thursday meeting.

"If we stay organized, the attendance numbers will increase," she said. "Indiana is pro-landlord and anti-tenant.

"We want to leave with a game plan for what we want to accomplish," Embry said. "Once the priorities are set, we can develop a plan of action."

Ross said the local group should push to adopt a tenant "Bill of Rights" in Anderson based on successful models in other communities.

"You will help push for these policies to be put in place in Anderson," he said.

Ross noted that an effort to have the Indiana Legislature pass a bill allowing for the establishment of escrow accounts during disputes has yet to be considered.

Townsend said there was a proposal to use American Rescue Plan funds provided to Madison County for tenants to be represented by legal counsel during eviction proceedings.

She said no action was taken on the request.

Follow Ken de la Bastide on Twitter @KendelaBastide, or call 765-640-4863.