Building a Just and Fair Anti-Eviction Strategy

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The pandemic has forced millions of Americans into sudden financial hardship: 57.4 million unemployment claims have been filed across the country since March 21st. A combination of direct stimulus dollars, federal, state, and local eviction moratoria have staved off mass evictions since March and has helped vulnerable renters maintain stable housing. Given the expiration of federal eviction moratorium on July 24th, and the wave of state and local government eviction moratoriums that are also beginning to expire, the nation is facing the threat of a wave of evictions and subsequent rise in homelessness.

As protections expire, the nation could face mass evictions and a rise in homelessness if policies are not passed to protect vulnerable residents. The 2008 foreclosure crisis caused around 10 million people to be displaced from their homes. For scale, experts estimate that we are looking at 29 million people being evicted between now and the end of the year. Without renter protections, more families will end up precariously housed or in the homeless shelter system, putting an already vulnerable population further at risk.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order for the temporary halt in residential evictions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Going further than the eviction ban under the CARES Act, the order prevents landlords (owners of residential properties) or persons with the legal right to pursue eviction from evicting renters. This measure, only applicable through December 31, 2020, does not provide aid to renters and does not relieve individuals or households from any payment of rent.

Who is most impacted?

According to pre-pandemic statistics, one in 20 renters faces an eviction every year–for Black renters, that statistic is one in eleven. A higher portion of white American families own their home and are therefore buffered from the impacts of eviction and the financial impacts of unemployment. Black and Latinx households rent at higher rates than white households. According to the 2020 Census Bureau estimates of homeownership rates, Black households rent at 53%, Hispanic households at 49%; versus non-Hispanic White households at 24%. With higher rental rates, Black and Latinx households are more likely to be subject to evictions.

The pandemic has also had an especially devastating impact of low-wage workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, industries such as hospitality and food services, retail trade, health care and social assistance have been most heavily impacted, accounting for more than 50% of the decline in jobs in April. Black and Latinx workers are overrepresented in these industries and have faced disproportionate increases in unemployment rates compared to white workers. As federal, state, and local eviction moratoriums expire, Black and Latinx households are at a higher risk for non-payment and evictions.

The eviction crisis is an issue of economic and racial justice and is not just a symptom of poverty but a root cause. Cities must build robust anti-eviction strategies to help their residents’ recover from COVID-19 and uplift historically marginalized communities.

How have cities begun building an anti-eviction strategy?

Several cities have already begun building an anti-eviction strategy.

Created in partnership by the Greensboro Housing Coalition (GHC), UNCG Center for Housing and Community Services, and Legal Aid of NC, Greensboro’s Eviction Resolution Program assists tenants with coordinating assistance through multiple entry points (e.g. Legal Aid, GHC, or other referral services). After an initial screening process, tenants may be connected to civil legal assistance, other non-profits, long-term resources (e.g. SNAP, utility assistance etc.) and cash assistance programs. The city has also developed specific outreach strategies for targeted populations by, for example, providing eviction diversion mediation program information in multiple languages.

Newark, NJ established the Office of Tenant Legal Services (OTLS) as a part of the City’s Department of Economic and Housing Development to uphold the Mayor’s commitment to increasing housing affordability and stability for Newark’s lower-income residents. The OTLS places special emphasis on Newark’s most vulnerable tenants including senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and persons with undocumented immigration status. Since its inception, the OTLS has helped more than 950 tenants maintain stable housing by thwarting eviction through legal representation, other legal assistance, and/or through information sharing.

Norfolk, VA established their Rent Ready Norfolk program that works to aid not only renters, but landlords and property owners as well. The city provides access to free services including a series of courses to educate landlords, property managers and renters about their rights and responsibilities; an engagement strategy to inform landlords, property managers, and community partners about the misconception about renters; and a rental resource bank for landlords and property managers including program financial assistance and advertisement of properties that have completed the program on Rent Ready Norfolk’s website.

What can cities do moving forward?

As cities continue to respond to the eviction crisis amidst COVID, a path forward can begin to be developed or better supported from response to institutionalization. This crisis has affirmed that cities, towns and villages need to put in place and financially support a just and fair anti-eviction strategy that assists both renters and landlords.

Our recommendations to cities to create a just and fair anti-eviction strategy include:

Fully funding a comprehensive anti-eviction strategy. The success of an anti-eviction strategy will require funding that can support the need of the community. Funding, which can be appropriated through general fund dollars, HUD entitlement, such as CDBG and HOME, grants and philanthropic funding which can be used to acquire designated staff to support both renters and landlords and create and/or bolster programs and tactics that provide interventions that prevent evictions and landlords during and after an eviction process.

Work with community stakeholders and residents to develop an anti-eviction strategy. The development of an anti-eviction strategy should not be built in a vacuum. The strategy should be co-developed through collaborative governance with community stakeholders, legal aid society, renters, landlords, property managers in addition to the court, the sheriff department and both city and county departments such as human services, community development, homeless services and code enforcement.

Develop an eviction data report to establish a baseline and monitor the crisis. The success of an anti-eviction strategy is dependent upon cities understanding the scope of their local eviction crisis.  Through quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis  process that disaggregates the data, cities can develop baselines to monitor whether the crisis is resolving with the interventions currently in place or if additional or new interventions need to be implemented.

Understand who is being affected and how. A comprehensive anti-eviction strategy considers how discriminatory housing practices have and continue to affect Black, Indigenous and People of Color households, especially among low-income women, more specifically, women of color. The anti-eviction strategy should be a people-informed strategy that has an intersectional lens, which includes designing and implementing equitable solutions that addresses barriers of an individual and/or household based on the overlap of race, class, gender, ability and sexuality.

Create or leverage existing resources to support both renters and landlords. A comprehensive anti-eviction strategy uses data to identify barriers and opportunities to leverage existing resources and/or create needed resources. An anti-eviction strategy prevents displacement by initiating tactics that include classes that detail the rights and responsibilities of renters and landlords, financial support to help renters remain in their home, mediation to allow for landlords and tenants to discuss disputes prior to an eviction filing, financial support for landlords to keep their rental housing safe, healthy and affordable.

Work with state legislatures. Cities should work with their state legislatures to advocate for fair and just tenant protections that will bolster their resources for tenants and landlords.

 

About the Authors

Tina Lee is a Senior Coordinator within NLC’s Center for City Solutions. She supports the Center for City Solutions and Senior Executive and Director. Additionally, her areas of research include urban innovation, mobility, and housing.

 

Lauren Lowery is the program director for housing & community development at the National League of Cities.