Tenants who were threatened with eviction experienced excess mortality that was ten times higher than that of the general population

A new study came out this week that demonstrated that “tenants who were threatened with eviction experienced excess mortality that was ten times higher than that of the general population … People who faced an eviction filing during the pandemic died at over twice the rate that was normal prior to the pandemic.” While the majority of those facing eviction predictably lived in low-income communities, and more often than not communities of color, those who were threatened with eviction had a much higher mortality rate than their immediate neighbors who did not face eviction. We know, or we think we know, that eviction is an existential crisis. This study demonstrates that eviction filing, facing eviction, whether or not one is ultimately thrown to the streets, is itself an existential crisis. For many, an eviction filing like an eviction is a death sentence.

Where are the women in this toxic scenario? Everywhere, women are the very fiber of the story, of the situation. “The median age of the threatened renters was 36 years, 62.5% were women, 57.6% were Black, and their median annual household income was $38,000, with 25.9% living below the poverty line.” For Black women the arithmetic is particularly telling and lethal. While Black women make up 11.5% of renters considered, they comprised 38.7% of those who faced eviction filings, the highest proportion of any group. The study considered the first two years of the pandemic. During that period, according to the study’s authors, “if we had eliminated eviction filings altogether, more than 8,000 lives could have been saved.” What exactly is the value of a human life in the current housing market?

While, at some level, none of this is surprising, given the intersection of gender, race/ethne, class in the general eviction story, it bears emphasizing that the “mere act” of being threatened with eviction is tantamount to a death sentence. When you hear or read of the “eviction epidemic”, remember that that’s not a figure of speech. Evictions kill, eviction filings kill.  Across the country, we see spikes in both eviction filings and evictions. Those are part of a national, and global, war on women, and in particular on low- to moderate-income women of color. Decent and secure housing is, or should be, a right. Safe and stable housing is life itself.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Images credit: Ariana Torrey / USA Today)

No-fault evictions and the persistence of feudalism in housing

Sunday morning, February 11, the United Kingdom’s so-called housing minister Michael Gove appeared on BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg’s Sunday morning politics show, and he did not fail to politick. When asked about the housing situation and in particular the Tory government’s four-year failure to pass its Renters (Reform) Bill which would ban no-fault evictions, the minister “promised” to end no-fault evictions by the time the next general elections roll around, sometime at the end of this year or the beginning of next. Whether these are hollow promises or not, and they are, is an issue many are discussing. Why it is so difficult to end no-fault evictions, and not only in the United Kingdom, is another, equally sordid issue. The reason, to cut to the chase, no-fault evictions persist is that renters today just as renters two hundred years ago find themselves firmly embedded in contemporary feudalism.

But first, a quick summary of the sad history of not addressing no-fault evictions. In 2019, the Conservative Party’s manifesto promised to end Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, which codified the right, and power, of landlords to evict tenants “without having to establish fault on the part of the tenant”. In April 2019, the government announced “plans to consult on new legislation to abolish Section 21 evictions – so called ‘no-fault’ evictions”.  That consultation went from April 2019 to October 2019. The resulting consultation paper proposed abolishing Section 21. That was over four years ago. What happened? A great deal and absolutely nothing.

Formally, nothing happened until June 2022, when the government issued a White Paper, “A fairer private rented sector”, which offered a 12-point action plan. The third action, in its entirety, reads: “We will deliver our manifesto commitment to abolish Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and deliver a simpler, more secure tenancy structure. A tenancy will only end if the tenant ends it or if the landlord has a valid ground for possession, empowering tenants to challenge poor practice and reducing costs associated with unexpected moves.” That was June 2022. The Queens Speech 2022 stated that a Renters Reform Bill would be introduced in the 2022 – 2023 session of Parliament. It wasn’t. So where is Section 21 today?

On one hand, a bill was finally introduced. The discussion of the bill has been delayed, again, until at least March. On the other, more dire hand, 2023 saw a 50% increase over 2022 in no-fault evictions, the highest number of no-fault evictions since 2016. Since the government first announced it would ban no-fault evictions, 26,000 households, 26,000 families, have suffered no-fault evictions. Landlords can smell something going on and are acting “accordingly”.

While one in five Conservative MPs are landlords, even if that were not the case, the Renters (Reform) Bill would have a tough road. Landlords have argued, apparently persuasively, that giving tenants “just cause” protection would harm the rental market. While there’s no evidence of that, and while this bill doesn’t go nearly far enough, one can see in the formulation an image of what that market actually is. A place where only the landlord exists. Paid your rent, month in month out, for years, maybe even decades? If you had the temerity to complain about maintenance, you’re out. If you had the gall to complain about exorbitant rent hikes or management harassment, you’re out. If something has changed the general broader neighborhood and people with more money are beginning to consider renting there, you’re out. Period. The years you’ve invested in maintaining the property count for less than nothing, less than nothing because now you have the Scarlet Letter E. Good luck finding a place to live.

This scenario is playing out around the world. 4% of evictions in Canada are no-fault evictions. In British Columbia, the epicenter of evictions in Canada, 85% of evictions were no-fault evictions, compared to 65% nationally. How do landlords explain this “epidemic” of no-fault evictions? They say the rules are too strict. Tenant advocates point out that the rules and punishments are actually among the easiest in Canada. Similarly, Australia is suffering a rise in no-fault evictions.

Across the United States, no-fault evictions are on the rise as well. In Connecticut, where evictions have risen steadily, no-fault evictions used to make up 9% of evictions annually. Now they comprise 11%. In April, California will once again ban no-fault evictions. In 2019, California passed “a landmark law” which prohibited no-fault evictions, with three exceptions: the landlord moving into the units, making repairs, or taking the units off the rental market. Guess what happened? In Santa Clara County a landlord evicted tenants, claiming relatives had to move. Magically, soon after, the apartments were re-listed at nearly double the price. Under the new law, landlords moving into their units or renting to family will have to identify the people moving in. They will have to move in within three months of eviction, and they will have to live in the unit for at least a year. Those who evict tenants to renovate properties, so called renovictions, will have to provide copies of permits or contracts when serving eviction notices. If landlords do not comply, they will have to allow evicted tenants to return under the original lease terms. Finally, the new law authorizes the attorney general, local government and renters to sue landlords for wrongful evictions and illegal rent increases.

From the United Kingdom to Canada to Australia to the United States and beyond, the elimination of no-fault evictions is an ongoing struggle. Powerful landlord groups are fierce in their opposition. Even when laws are passed, as happened in California, landlords find ways of exploiting what seemed like reasonable exceptions. Tenants often are uninformed about their rights and their power. And finally, often, as the new California law suggests, even when the eviction is wrongful, illegal, the tenant is left to pursue justice in civil court. Even though the landlord has actually broken the law, the State does not prosecute. Why does the State not pursue landlords who engage in wrongful eviction? Because in feudalism the bond between land and lord is sacred, and the tenants are not even shadows.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: The Guardian / Bill Bragg)

Johannesburg: “Just because they are already living on the margins of society does not make them invisible social outcasts or nuisances”

On August 29, the Pretoria High Court declared that “the recent series of evictions undertaken by the City of Johannesburg (COJ) and the MMC for Human Settlements in Gauteng, on Farm Allandale, have been declared unlawful and unconstitutional.” Lawyers for Human Rights, the attorneys representing Farm Allendale residents, described this as “a pivotal court decision …. This ruling is not just a win for the residents of Farm Allandale but a clarion call to all entities, reminding them of the human touch essential in the dispensation of justice. This victory serves as a testament to the resilience of communities and the critical role that organizations like LHR play in ensuring that justice is meted out fairly.” A community of 836 people, identified as Rabie Ridge Community, have lived for years on land known as Farm Allendale. The City of Johannesburg has evicted them, destroying their homes as well as their belongings, numerous times. The residents sued the City … and won. Acting Judge Elmien Du Plessis said, “These people have human rights as contained in the Bill of Rights and protected in the Constitution. Just because they are already living on the margins of society does not make them invisible social outcasts or nuisances, however much their presence may frustrate the respondents – the City and the MMC.” The Judge declared the actions of the City unlawful and ruled the City had to either rebuild the shacks within 72 hours or pay each family R1500 to buy materials to rebuild their own homes. This was a landmark victory, a beacon in the very dark and too long night. Had I written in response on Wednesday, this would be a celebration. But then the fires broke out the next day, in the central business district of Johannesburg, the fires this time, the fires next time, and the whole world suddenly invoked the “tragedy waiting to happen”. And so today, the question is not “What is there to celebrate”, although that is a good question, but rather “What is there to say? What is the point of saying anything, when everything has already been said, and so many times before?”

In June 2017, we wrote, “Last Thursday, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that judges cannot authorize an eviction order that will leave people homeless. Over the past 25 years, South Africa’s highest courts have ruled consistently that the rights of residents, including occupiers, matter. Even with those protections in place, this decision is viewed as groundbreaking and welcome. The case involves 184 people – 47 women, 114 men, 23 children – who have occupied an apartment building in the Berea neighborhood of Johannesburg’s inner city. Hlengiwe Mhlambo is one of the 184. She is forty years old, a mother of two, and an informal trader. For the past 14 years, Hlengiwe Mhlambo has lived in her apartment, eking out a meager living, raising her children, hoping to find, or better create, the once promised green pasture.” This was a “momentous decision for millions of poor people across South Africa who live with insecure tenure and inadequate housing”. Remember? That was “only” six years ago.

In October 2022, just last year, the Johannesburg High Court rejected the `natural’ inevitability of eviction. As we wrote then, “In the case of Rycloff-Beleggings (Pty) Ltd v Ntombekhaya Bonkolo and Others, the Johannesburg High Court ruled that a group of working people’s access to work and right to dignity had to be considered when adjudicating an eviction notice. The case involves waste reclaimers who have been living on an `undeveloped’ stretch of farmland that lies between a residential complex and a business park in the Midrand section of Johannesburg. In 2018, the owners of the land, Rycloff-Beleggings, decided they wanted to `develop’ the land, and so issued eviction notices. The city offered a site with no possibility of developing waste reclamation economies, and so, in May 2019, the residents sued, demanding to either stay put or be placed somewhere where they could continue to work. On October 4, Judge Greg Wright agreed and gave the city until March 2023 to find appropriate site for the community. Anything else `would leave them at risk of not being able to maintain their dignity and care for their children.  It would be unfair and therefore unconstitutional to uphold the other parties’ rights while the reclaimers go hungry. Furthermore, the rights of children are paramount in cases involving children such as the present one.’ If people are on the land, it is not `undeveloped’. If people live in a neighborhood, it too is not undeveloped.” Remember? It was less than a year ago … and yet here we are.

The people living on Farm Allendale first moved in in 2017, but most moved in last year and this, having lost their jobs during the Covid pandemic. Many families had previously rented but could no longer pay the bills. Others had squatted elsewhere but could no longer afford to stay in those areas. And so they moved, adults and many children, to Farm Allendale. The City declared that too many people were moving in and so they started evicting everyone, although the City claimed they only destroyed `abandoned’ shacks. The residents had photos and videos showing that not to be the case. While the incidents that sparked the court case occurred mid July of this year, the City has performed mass evictions every three weeks for the past three years. For three years, the City of Johannesburg engaged in illegal evictions, and you want to know how the fires this week started and spread, how so many people could end up living in a five-story building? Everybody knew already.

If people are on land, the land is not `undeveloped’. If people live in a neighborhood, it is not `undeveloped’. And if people live in a building, whether it is called derelict or hijacked or blighted or whatever, it is not vacant nor is it `undeveloped’. It’s home. Living on the margins of society does not make people invisible social outcasts or nuisances, however much their presence may frustrate others or `development’ programs. At the same time, writing insightfully always already after the event, after the tragedy waiting to happen, is not insight. It’s alibi. No next time. Now. Mutual respect is already encoded in law as well as ethical behavior. Now make it so.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Philiswa Lila – Entsizwa II / Art Times)

Eviction must mean more than the sum total of legal processes

“The mainstream has never run clean, perhaps never can. Part of mainstream education involves learning to ignore this absolutely, with a sanctioned ignorance.”
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason

 Across the United States and around the world, evictions are rising and residential rentals and home sales prices are skyrocketing. Predictably, this is accompanied by rising rates of eviction. While parts of the United Kingdom are experiencing rates of eviction they haven’t faced in almost twenty years, the United States is facing mortgage rates it also  hasn’t faced in over twenty years. But what exactly is an eviction, other than an existential crisis, a crisis that in the United States targets Black and Brown women? In the official discourse on housing, eviction has meant “the action or an instance of expelling a person by legal process from land, property, etc., occupied by him or her.” The key here, and the element of sanctioned ignorance, is “by legal process”. If eviction is only an action based on a legal process, what then do we call all those actions in which people are forced to move, but without any legal process involved?

Consider these stories from the last couple days.

In Sausalito, California, the owners of an apartment complex occupied mostly by elderly residents recently issued eviction notices to all the residents. The all-too-familiar story is a new owner came in a year or so ago, began letting maintenance go, never answered calls for repairs and then, again this week, decided the buildings needs “remodeling”. And so … people on fixed incomes in a hot rental market are out on the streets.

In Bakersfield, California, rents are going up as much as 40%, often in violation of the law. When Bakersfield Tenants Union Founder Wendell “J.R.” Wesley Jr. was issued a $100 rent increase, he knew that was illegal, and so went to the Leadership Counsel, a local advocacy group, got some help, and stopped the rent increase as well as the threat of eviction.

In Tucson, Oklahoma, a recent survey of unhoused people showed that the population of homeless elders is rising precipitously, and that the two leading causes of homelessness are eviction and skyrocketing rents.

These are just three stories from the last couple days, taken from a much longer list. They are stories of eviction, and familiar ones at that, but they hide as much as they show. What about all the elders living in apartments where the writing is on the wall, sometimes in the form of unattended mildew and mold? What about the elders who are harassed, directly or through `passive’ nonresponse and inaction, into `informal eviction’ or, even more ineptly, `self eviction’? Likewise, J.R. Wesley is an organizer who knows more than a thing or two about local and state housing laws. What about all those people who received a $100 increase in their rent, didn’t know it was illegal, didn’t know there are organizations and resources to help them, and moved before they lost everything and incurred today’s version of a Scarlet Letter, ie an eviction filing? Finally, it’s not only evictions leading to homelessness. It’s also rents rising so fast and so much they become unaffordable. People who have lived for years in an area that was affordable, if barely, are now forced to move through no action or fault of their own. What about them?

In Wisconsin, the Supreme Court will hear an argument to reduce the time eviction records are kept from 20 years to one year. In Wisconsin, the 20 years on file is for eviction filings, not evictions, and so the landlord has an extraordinarily menacing tool: “The vast majority of renters in eviction court are not evicted. According to the petition, there were 17,727 eviction filings in Wisconsin in just 2021. Just under ten percent of those eviction filings actually resulted in an eviction”. What about all those people who understand that an eviction filing is as damning as an actual eviction and decide to move?

That more attention is being given to eviction is good, but we need more and better attention. At this stage, there is still no national eviction data base. Last month, Virginia began collecting data on the number and locations of evictions that occur in any given year. That’s a good step. Across the country, many groups follow the model of Princeton’s Eviction Lab and collect data on eviction filings, also an important step in the right direction. But, again, those who are formally filed against, and even more those who go through the tragedy and existential crisis of eviction, are a minority of those who have been forcibly displaced. And we know, from history as well as from contemporary experience, that forcible displacement, while it may be experienced in deeply individual ways, is never a solitary event. Forced displacement is always already mass displacement. We cannot, in our research, advocacy, and organizing, create yet another mainstream moment, in which millions of people and communities are relegating to the status of ghosts, present and yet somehow not sufficiently enough to matter.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo: Iziko Slave Lodge)

In Montreal, Carla White re-writes the David-and-Goliath script

Carla White outside her apartment building

“And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. And he had a helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass. And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him.”  King James Bible

 According to contemporary scholars, it was not David who killed the “champion” Goliath but rather Elhanan, son of Jair. Later, the story was revised by “supporters of the Davidic dynasty.” But what really matters, to these scholars, is the detailed representation of Goliath’s armor. In Montreal right now, a single tenant, Carla White, is resisting attempts by a major developer, Mondev, and she, like David or Elhanan, is undeterred by flashy armor and massive size. By accurately assessing the housing situation and her own position, Carla White has held up a luxury condo development for three years. Here’s her story.

After a series of eviction, Carla White finally found a place she could afford. That was ten years ago. The apartment is one room, has no working stove, and mostly filled with a bed and a small desk, and loads of plants. But, and importantly, Carla White pays $400, Canadian, a month. By law, the rent can’t be raised, and so Carla White has a secure and stable place, however diminutive, in which to live. Or she had one, until Mondev showed up, a few years ago. Mondev wants to demolish the building and build 176 luxury condos. They made offers to other tenants, who accepted. Others simply moved. But Carla White looked at the new skyscrapers in her neighborhood, looked at the apartment listings as well, and asked, “I look out there and say, where am I going now?” Rather than succumb to the inevitability of nowhere-to-go, Carla White stood her ground and entered into negotiations.

According to Mondev, they have made offers, which they describe as more than generous, for the past three years. The last offer was $20,000, Canadian. Mondev is portraying this as a more than reasonable offer, one that would ensure housing for Carla White for some time to come. Carla White responded, “How far will $20,000 go (at) $1,600 a month? I will be evicted within a year. I will be out on the roads.” Carla White’s attorney, Manuel Johnson, added: “She’s not trying to save the building. She knows it needs to be renovated. She just wants somewhere safe and affordable to live …. Whatever reasonable settlement Ms White needs for housing stability in no way will endanger the financial viability of their project. They don’t have any cash-flow problems, they’re going to be making millions of dollars on this development.” In other words, their armor is coated with mail.

Canada is in the throes of an affordable housing crisis, as it is in the midst of an eviction boom. British Columbia leads the race to the bottom, while Quebec, led by Montreal, has seen an explosion of `renovictions’. In the United States, starting in the late 1940s, blight and `urban renewal’ became the excuse to displace entire working-class communities of color. Contemporary Canada’s equivalent to `blight’ is `renovation’. Across Canada, tenants are forming tenant unions and engaging in rent strikes. As corporate landlords consume increasing portions of urban residential space and push for higher and higher rent increases, the number of rent strikes are expected to rise. From organized collective action to organized individual actions, everyone is asking the question Carla White is asking, “I look out there and say, where am I going now?”

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: CTV Montreal News / La Presse Canadienne / Christinne Muschi)

With astronomical eviction numbers and nowhere to go, British Columbia “returns to normal”

The Balanced Supply of Housing Research Cluster at the University of British Columbia released a report last week, “Estimating no-fault evictions in Canada: Understanding BC’s disproportionate eviction rate in the 2021 Canadian housing survey”. Looking at data from the 2021 Canadian Housing Survey, researchers wanted to find out eviction rates, reasons for evictions, and what happened in the first period of the Covid pandemic. On all counts, British Columbia scored the highest, or failed the most profoundly, depending on one’s perspective. Between April 2016 and early 2021, 10.5% of B.C. renter households reported being forced to move, compared with the national rate of 5.9%. At some level, none of this was surprising or new, since British Columbia has consistently led the nation in evictions. What was new is this: “British Columbia’s high eviction rate is driven by higher rates of no-fault evictions …. 85% of evictions reported by renter households in British Columbia in the five years prior to data collection were no-fault evictions.” Paid your rent on time, the landlord never had any issues with you, you were an ideal tenant? Who cares? You’re out. And not only are you out, you have nowhere to go. They call that market-forces justice.

Here’s more market forces justice. Most provinces had some sort of eviction ban during the Covid pandemic, and yet the number of evictions remained relatively stable. How can that be? According to the report, there are at least two reasons. First, once the bans were lifted, eviction processes were “accelerated”. Second, “despite all the eviction bans that were implemented, at least 38,900 – 68,080 renter households were evicted during the first year of the pandemic in Canada.” Were landlords punished for these evictions? No. That too is market-forces justice.

In British Columbia, there is rent control for those who living in a unit. There are no controls or limits on how much a landlord can charge a new tenant. There are no real controls on no-fault evictions. A landlord simply has to claim they want to sell, inhabit, renovate, repair, or demolish the property. There’s no requirement of proof of any kind. Many of those who were evicted report that their former homes remain vacant for months, even years, afterwards. There’s no enforcement because there’s nothing to enforce.

Fiona Scott lives in Vancouver. In the past decade, she endured three no-fault evictions. The last one was over a year ago. The unit she used to call home remains vacant to this day. Meanwhile Fiona Scott lives in a much smaller apartment, for which she pays $500 more a month, and so has had to take on extra work. “You have an emotional connection to your house, it’s your safe space… and then all of a sudden it’s gone. It wasn’t an emotional journey I was prepared for.”

Linda de Gonzalez is a 70-year-old pensioner who has lived in her apartment for 20 years. This year the landlord raised the rent 43%, starting in June. But what about rent control? The landlord said that if de Gonzalez didn’t accept the exorbitant increase, he’d sell the unit. Again, there’s no requirement of proof. “It really was utterly and completely devastating. I literally felt my stomach fall out. I just sat on the floor and I cried and I cried and I cried. And I kept thinking what am I going to do? I have nowhere to go.” I have nowhere to go.

A second report, issued by Vancouver’s First United Church Eviction Mapping Project, found that 27% of evicted people had not found a place to live. 45% of Indigenous respondents had not found a place to live. 31% of people of color had not found a place to live. 34% of people living with disabilities had not found a place to live. For those in the lowest income bracket, 53% had not found a place to live. “People with an annual income of less than $50,000 were almost three times as likely to become homeless than those with an annual income of over $50,000.” Meanwhile, 12% of those earning more than $50,000 a year had not found a place to live. Of those who did find somewhere to live, for most it had to be in a new neighborhood, meaning no support systems. 80% of evicted residents reported neighborhood displacement. For evicted Indigenous residents, that was 91%.

The report notes, “For many evicted tenants, homelessness was long-term as they struggled to find a way back into the rental housing market amidst massive increases in the amount of rent landlords are charging.” Homeless was, and is, long-term.

As Anne Waldman once wrote,

“it is error it is speculation it is real estate

      it is the villain and comic slippery words

            the work of despotic wills to make money”

Nowhere to go, nowhere to go, nowhere to go.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic: The University of British Columbia)

 

In Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa, the struggle for housing is a struggle for home

120-128 Bromwell Street

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa consists of a Preamble and 14 chapters. Chapter 1 provides the “founding provisions” and opens: “The Republic of South Africa is one, sovereign, democratic state founded on the following values: Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms. Non-racialism and non-sexism. Supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law. Universal adult suffrage, a national common voters roll, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government, to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.” It’s a promising beginning. Chapter 2 is titled “Bill of Rights” and begins: “This Bill of Rights is a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa. It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. The state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights.” Section 26 of the Constitution, located in Chapter 2, concerns housing and so much more: “Housing: Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing. The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right. No one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances. No legislation may permit arbitrary evictions.” This is one of only two occasions on which the Constitution discusses “home”. The other, Section 14, articulates the right to privacy: “Everyone has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have their person or home searched.” There’s a great deal, though not enough, of discussion these days of `homelessness’. Recently, that condition has been somewhat refined by calling the loss of housing the state of being unhoused. While a welcome intervention, this still doesn’t tell us what home is.

Beyond the right to access to adequate housing and the right to not be arbitrarily evicted or have one’s home arbitrarily demolished, what is the State’s responsibility to something they, the inhabitants, residents, neighbors, community, call home? This is a particularly poignant question in a country marked by a history of forced mass dislocations, a description as apt for the United States, Brazil, India, England, as South Africa. Nevertheless, when the authors of the South African Constitution codified the right to housing, they remembered, acutely, the dislocations, demolitions and deprivations of housing and home under the apartheid regime. And today? Consider a court decision rendered today by the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, concerning the rights of residents in the Woodstock neighborhood of Cape Town. While today’s decision may mark a turning point, it is not the end of the story.

For some, the story would start on October 30, 2013, when The Woodstock Hub bought 120 to 128 Bromwell Street. On June 30, 2014, residents were served eviction notices and given a month to clear out. Residents, 26 in all including children, began organizing. They went to court. In 2016, the Cape High Court decided in favor of the landlord. The residents’ attorneys argued that at the very least the City had an obligation to move the residents into nearby and adequate housing. Instead, the City proposed to move them to Wolwerivier, far from the city center and with absolutely no public transportation whatsoever. Woodstock, on the other hand, is one of the most centrally located suburbs in Cape Town, and while it managed to avoid forced removals in the 1950s, its location has meant wave upon wave of gentrification, displacement, and struggle. With that in mind, the residents and their attorneys appealed the decision.

In 2021, five years later, the Cape Town High Court decided that the City’s plan for removal to Wolwerivier was indeed unconstitutional. The Court ruled the City must find the residents emergency housing as near as feasibly possible and within the year. In response, The Woodstock Hub appealed, and that’s where we are today. Today, the Court ruled the City plan is not unconstitutional, because the earlier decision “did not identify the extent of invalidity for the City to rectify in its order.” On the other hand, the Court did say the City must provide adequate housing “in a location as near as possible to where they currently reside” before the end of May. It’s a mixed decision. Whether the residents will accept or appeal is unknown just now.

120 to 128 Bromwell Street has been, and is, home to these residents. Brenda Smith is 82 years old. She was born in 128 Bromwell Street. Today, she lives in 128 Bromwell Street. Charnell Commando is 36 years old. She has lived on Bromwell Street all her life. In fact, her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents also were born and lived at her current address. Graham Beukes, 42 years old, has lived all his life at his current Bromwell Street address, where his parents lived for 50 years. What `value’ does their history, do their lives, have? What is home?

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit 1: Rejul Bejoy / GroundUp) (Photo Credit 2: Ashraf Hendricks / GroundUp)

Landmark cases: In Massachusetts, Nebraska, Black women demand housing justice for all!

Two “landmark cases” hit the news this week, both involving the rights and dignity of Black women. In Massachusetts, Mary Louis, of Malden, and Monica Douglas, of Canton, both Black women with housing vouchers, sued SafeRent and Metropolitan Management Group in US District Court for applying racial discrimination in their tenant screening software. This week, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Housing filed a statement of interest in support of Louis’ and Douglas’ claim. In Nebraska, Teresa Holcomb, a Black resident of Omaha, faces eviction, filed by NP Dodge Management. Ms. Holcomb’s attorneys, from Legal Aid of Nebraska and Nebraska Appleseed, are arguing that Ms. Holcomb has the right to a trial by jury. The Nebraska Supreme Court began hearings on Wednesday.

On May 25, 2022, attorneys representing Mary Louis, Monica Douglas, and the Community Action Agency of Somerville filed a lawsuit, in federal court, arguing that SafeRent, a national tenant screening provider, had been violating the Fair Housing Act for years by consistently giving low scores to Black and Latino rental applicants holding federally funded housing vouchers, causing them to be denied housing. This week, U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins for the District of Massachusetts explained, “Algorithms are written by people. As such, they are susceptible to all of the biases, implicit or explicit, of the people that create them. As the housing industry and other professions adopt algorithms into their everyday decisions, there can be disparate impacts on certain protected communities. Stable and affordable housing provides a unique pathway to success, opportunity and safety. We must fiercely protect the rights and protections promulgated in the Fair Housing Act. Today’s filing recognizes that our 20th century civil rights laws apply to 21st century innovations.”

SafeRent Solutions used to be called CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions. CoreLogic was sued, in Connecticut, “for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminatory use of criminal records as rental criteria.” That court ruling is pending.

On Wednesday, January 11, Nebraska’s Supreme Court began hearing NP Dodge Management Company v. Holcomb. Teresa Holcomb got into an argument with two other tenants in a common area. NP Dodge Management Company filed for eviction, claiming Ms. Holcomb had violated the crime-free housing clause by threatening residents. Ms. Holcomb disputed that claim. The original court found in the landlords’ favor. Ms. Holcomb appealed, arguing that she had a constitutional right to a trial by jury to determine whose narrative, the tenant’s or the landlord’s, should prevail. In an Amicus brief, the local ACLU and NAACP opened their arguments in support of Teresa Holcomb, “This appeal puts before the Court a historical issue of the right to a jury trial on factual issues in an eviction trial, a matter of special importance to women, especially Black women, and their children, as well as people with disabilities.”

Last year, 9.3 million people in the United States received housing assistance. Of households receiving public housing assistance, 75% were female-headed. From discrimination in credit screening to discrimination in court, eviction, the right to decent and secure housing, and justice in housing are a matter of special importance to women, especially Black women, and their children, as well as people with disabilities.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Silver State Fair Housing Coalition) (Photo Credit: WNYC / Michael Dwyer / AP)

For counties with higher proportions of Black and women renters, eviction is a death sentence

If you’re a Black woman in the United States, your chance of being evicted is higher than any other demographic.

News Medical reports, today, “U.S. counties with more evictions have higher mortality rates, study finds”. Earlier in the week, Newswise reported “Mortality rates are higher in U.S. counties with more evictions, UTSW researchers find”. Both reports are based on a study, published in early November, “Association of US County-Level Eviction Rates and All-Cause Mortality”, which looked at 2016 data from 686 U.S. counties “to evaluate the independent association of county-level eviction rates with all-cause mortality in the USA”. The researchers found “county-level eviction rates were significantly associated with all-cause mortality with the strongest effects observed among counties with the highest proportion of Black and women residents.” More Black, more women, more eviction, more death. Again, this is neither tsunami nor wave nor is it particularly surprising, even if horrifying. This is a national pogrom, and, remember, this data is from 2016, in the Before Times, when everything was “normal”

In “normal” times, women were more likely to be evicted than men: “eviction rates were four percent higher for black women than among black men and nine percent higher for Latinx women relative to Latinx men”. That was then, and it still is now, or worse.  In the “normal times”, the times we are told we all want to return to, eviction, pandemic in Black and Brown communities, targeted Black and Brown women. Now we know the fatal consequences of that campaign.

The county-level study found “the relationship between eviction and mortality was strongest in the subgroup of counties with a proportion of women above the median (high), among whom mortality rates were 13.19 deaths (per 100,000 individuals) higher for every 1% higher eviction rate, representing a more than fivefold difference compared to counties with a lower proportion of women.” The same was more or less true for counties with equivalent proportions of Black residents. Again, for every 1% increase in eviction rate, 13 women died.

In August 2021, we noted, “We `learn’ this week that in Virginia, the Virginia that has improved on its shameful history of mass evictions, high eviction rates, and easy eviction procedures, in that Virginia, “Black women … are disproportionately evicted.” We “learn” this week that in New York, the New York that only recently started distributing any rent relief funds, Black women make up nearly two-thirds of those applying for rent relief. Again, that relief has only now started, barely, reaching people.” This week, we `learn’ that Black women being disproportionately evicted is a death sentence. Eviction is an existential crisis, both for those being evicted and for the community. It is a matter of life and death, at the center of which are Black women.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Ariana Torrey / USA Today)

(Infographic Credit: Journal of General Internal Medicine)

Los Angeles faces a “flood of evictions”

With over 10 million residents, and counting, Los Angeles County is far and away the most populous county in the United States. Next in line is Cook County, Illinois, with just over 5 million inhabitants. Los Angeles County will end its pandemic-era tenant protections December 31. With just over 4 million residents, the City of Los Angeles is the second largest city in the United States. The City of Los Angeles eviction moratorium will expire January 31, 2023. This morning’s NPR headline read: “‘Flood of evictions’ looms in Los Angeles as pandemic tenant protections expire”. While the situation is dire, sometimes a metaphor hides as much as it reveals, and that is the case with the flood of evictions image. The same is true of the phrase “mass eviction.”

As today’s article accurately reports, according to Tim Thomas, director of UC Berkeley’s Eviction Research Network, Los Angeles “going to see the highest flood of evictions and, potentially, exacerbated homelessness on top of the conditions that they already had. As these moratoria and rental assistance end, we’re seeing across the country a lot of cities have reached historical averages of eviction by August of this year — and are actually surpassing the historical average.” And it’s not only cities. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, eviction rates in Oklahoma are at an all-time high. That’s not eviction filings but evictions. Eviction filings are also at an all-time high. Return to normal has meant skyrocketing rents, eviction filings, eviction, instability, disruption, menace.

The problem with `floods’ and `mass’ is that they suggest an immediately perceptible phenomenon. What is a flood, after all? “An overflowing or irruption of a great body of water over land not usually submerged; an inundation, a deluge.” You can see the flood, immediately. You can hear the flood, and often you can even the smell the flood. The immediate impact is plainly visible. And that is precisely what does not happen in the kind of mass eviction engineered by corporate and hedge fund landlords. They don’t come in with bulldozers and remove whole blocks of residences. They work more or less privately and individually. You don’t see the harm to the neighborhood, to the community. Half the time, people leave before the sheriffs come, and so you don’t have the tragedy of family possessions thrown out into the streets.

In Baltimore, Maryland, there’s a new sheriff in town, literally: Sheriff Sam Cogen. On Thursday, Sheriff Cogen ended the policy of posting eviction notices in apartment complex common areas. As Sheriff Cogen explained, the posting of eviction notices in plain sight for everyone to read “was raised as an issue a while ago and the attorney general weighed in on an opinion and said that, barring any extraordinary circumstances, that the deputies should be posting on the individual doors, not on the common door, not on a mailbox, out in the lobby, not by an elevator. And to me, that’s a more difficult thing to do, but it’s also the more correct thing to do and the more humane thing to do, and we’re talking about trying to humanize this process as best as we can because what we need to do is we need to let the tenant know, absolutely and with certainty, give them notice that there’s an eviction proceeding.”

Delivering the eviction notice to the actual intended recipient is a reasonable first step. A greater step would be to extend, renew or initiate eviction moratoria and eviction diversion programs. The Scarlet E stigma and condemnation of eviction begins from the moment of filing and, currently, continues for a lifetime. While that was always the case, with corporate and hedge fund landlords and their propensity to file at the drop of a hat, this issue has itself become an invisible flood of sorts. So, publish not the name of those threatened with eviction, but rather the name of the landlords. Every jurisdiction in this country has a small group of `enterprises’ that comprise the overwhelming majority of those filing eviction. In Richmond, Virginia, for example, 15 large corporations are responsible for over half of the eviction filings.

There’s no flood looming. The flood is here, everywhere, every day. Every eviction is a flood of Biblical proportions. Every eviction filing is already part of that flood. We must do better than sink or swim, where swimming only occurs at someone else’s expense. The only way to control a flood is to contain it. Housing is a human right. Protect it.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit 1: William H. Johnson, Folk Scene–Eviction / Smithsonian American Art Museum)

(Image Credit 2: Hilda Katza, The Flood / Smithsonian American Art Museum)