Bennita Watford has been in housing court since January fighting to get her landlord to fix major issues in her building. That’s where she met N2N organizer Katie Talbot, and since then she’s been a leader in the fight for tenants’ rights.

Bennita’s not new to tenant organizing. Back in 2000, she started showing up at the tenants’ association in her building and the next thing she knew she was nominated to be its president.

Photo Credit: People’s Action 2023

“We needed playgrounds for the children, people were speeding through the parking lots… We got the playgrounds, got speed bumps, started a baseball team, and set up a food pantry in the neighborhood,” said Bennita. “It was great.”

In 2003, Bennita moved to North Carolina, where she also was involved in tenant organizing. But her problems with Springfield Gardens – her current landlord – started in 2016 when she moved back to her hometown to be closer to family.

“I needed an apartment and I took the first thing I found. It was fine at first, but then I saw mold growing in my bathroom. When I told Springfield Gardens about it, they just painted right over the mold.”

Bennita Watford

From there, matters only got worse. Bennita’s apartment is one of many units in her building with mold and mice. The entire building suffered through a freezing cold week with no heat at all. At any point, the water could be off in her building. The hallways aren’t safe or maintained – the lights are often out and last year Bennita slipped on a spill on the stairs and cracked two ribs.

So Bennita got right back to organizing.

“It started out as a me thing. I pay $1200 a month for rent, I shouldn’t have to live through the things that I’m living through,” said Bennita. “But then as I started going to court and I started to hear more stories – and everyone is saying the same thing about Springfield Gardens. At first you think it’s just you. But it’s not just me.”

In June, Bennita took the fight to the national level when she traveled down to DC with over 40 other N2N members for the People’s Action Convention and got behind the mic in front of hundreds of people to tell her story.

Going to the People’s Action Convention is like finding out it’s not just you who has issues with housing, but better. It’s finding out that people from across the country have been fighting back, and winning. You get to hear people’s stories and what they did in different states to get different bills passed for housing justice. The experience is so powerful it’s hard to describe.

“It’s not a Black thing, a white thing, or a Puerto Rican thing – it’s an us thing. People have slumlords everywhere. But to see all those people in Washington, it makes me think… What are they doing with all this rent money?”

Bennita Watford

Bennita’s is back home in Springfield and fired up to keep organizing.

“If my fight is going to mean a better life for my kids, grandkids, and all the other children coming up, then it’s not in vain,” said Bennita.