Autumn Glen: A Teacher’s Perspective

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The families who lived at the Autumn Glen
apartment complex in Rantoul had their lives
totally upended after being forcibly removed
from their homes. The residents of Autumn
Glen paid an extra fee in their rent to pay for
the gas bill. While the landlord took the
money from the tenants, the landlord never
paid the gas bill. The gas was shut off due to
non-payment. The gas shutoff allowed the city to declare the building uninhabitable and the
tenants were removed from their homes.
While I’ve been involved with housing issues prior to this, the Autumn Glen crisis
hit me personally because at least two students I taught lived in Autumn Glen. On one
of my last visits to Autumn Glen, I was alerted that the landlord had chosen not to pay
other bills as well. Garbage overflowed out of dumpsters and into the parking lot. Grass
was knee-high. As I navigated this nightmarish scenario, I went to an apartment to
speak with Ora—a mother of a student I taught. In our two-hour conversation, I
learned that the landlord routinely had problems fixing the building and the tenants
faced safety problems due to the deteriorating conditions. She was very adamant that
the tenants dutifully paid their bills yet they were the ones losing their homes due to
the landlord’s choice not to use the rent fees for their purpose. Because the landlord
chose not to pay the bills, Ora and her family were losing the place that they had called
home for the last fifteen years. Ora and her family have been pinballed around and are
still looking for permanent housing because affordable housing has been rapidly
decreasing for low-income families.
Another student I taught and her family have experienced similar circumstances. The
family temporarily lived in a hotel and are still looking for permanent housing as they
move from home to home of friends and relatives willing to take them.
The stress and upheaval of forcible removal, especially when the tenants were not at
fault, is something almost beyond comprehension for most people who have not had direct
experience of it. The palpable fear, anxiety and anguish that Ora felt were very clear as we
sat in her living room talking about what she was going to do. I couldn’t even begin to imagine
the emotions her son was dealing with as he, not only had to worry about tests, grades
and homework, but also about where he was going to be living once Autumn Glen closed.
The housing crisis very clearly impacts the classroom. Between frequent absences due
to consistent moving in search of housing, incomplete assignments, the understandable
lack of attention/focus when in attendance and acting out with negative behaviors as an
outlet to deal with these complex emotions, student success is extremely compromised.
Having worked with other students facing housing precarity, I have seen how it can negatively
impact their willpower and self-esteem to believe that they can successfully
achieve goals. Academic success is already hard enough without having this extra stress
compounded on them.
The housing crisis will continue to impact communities and have unseen consequences
like their children’s education being attacked. The already very limited services
to aid the displaced are being stretched past their limits and the need for assistance has
been called “tremendous” by the Community Service Center in Rantoul.
As a fellow activist in the housing struggle stated: “Our working class brothers and sisters…
can do everything expected of them and still their wellbeing as well as that of their
loved ones is at the mercy of a system that puts profit and property before human need.”

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