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)

Rent control would be good, controlling corporate and hedge fund landlords would be better

Despite much ballyhoo around Thanksgiving Day in the United States, and other celebrations around the world, the eviction and housing news of the past week has been relentless. In Oklahoma, where “it’s easy to be evicted,” evictions and rent are skyrocketing, thousands are being or recently have been pushed out of their homes into an environment where affordable housing is either unavailable or dangerous to your health. In Quebec, those hoping to flee domestic violence find, again, no available affordable housing. Faced with home-based violence or the violence being unhoused, many are forced to remain in perilous situations. In Florida, residents, often long-standing residents, of mobile home parks are being evicted by new landlords who, upon possession, jack up the rents. In Virginia, mobile home park residents are suffering the same fate. In Charlotte, North Carolina, new landlords are doing the same, taking possession, raising the rents precipitously with the intent of forcing the current residents out into, again, a hostile and even impossible local and regional housing environment. And then there’s the United Kingdom.

According to new government data, between January and March, the United Kingdom saw a record high number of no-fault eviction filings. From end of March last year to end of March this year, the United Kingdom saw a 76% rise in no-fault eviction filings. At least 20% of those receiving evictions ended up being forced out, often onto the streets. In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and the approach of winter, the situation is expected to worsen. In June 2019, the United Kingdom government promised to end no-fault evictions. In the intervening three years, they have done nothing, actually less than nothing, given the rise in housing costs. Meanwhile, on Thursday, Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, announced that tens of thousands of homes across the United Kingdom are unsafe because “they have not been looked after properly”, not by the landlords and not by the State, that has consistently looked the other way. Tens of thousands of homes do not mysteriously, suddenly become unsafe. So much for levelling up.

Across the United States, and beyond, the fact that the rent is too damned high and even worse, that it’s rising faster than ever before is perhaps finally becoming `newsworthy’. Yesterday, NPR reported, “After gutting local newspapers, hedge fund Alden Global is going after mobile home parks.” Today, The Roanoke Times editorial headline says it all, “Wealthy corporate investors prey on vulnerable mobile home park residents”. What is that preys on the vulnerable? A predator. This weekend, the news focused on Alden Global, a hedge fund that has bought a slew of mobile home parks across the country, including Massie’s Mobile Home Park in Christiansburg, Virginia. Alden comes in, does nothing about repairs, raising the rents impossibly, evicts residents, or just comes in and evicts residents, depending on the local laws. But the thing is, Alden is typical of hedge funds and corporate investors. This is what they do. And they are doing this, as never before, across the United States rental housing market. Rent control is good, essential even, but it won’t stop hedge funds. What is also needed is renter controls. There are tests for real estate agents, why not for landlords? How much is too much? Remember the housing market collapse of 2008, engineered by corporate interests in collusion with banks? Remember “too big to fail”? For some, the lesson was if you get big enough, you’re untouchable. It’s not too late to control the corporates from seizing the housing market altogether. Housing is a human right. Protect it.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit 1: Bill Bragg / The Guardian) (Image Credit 2: Elizabeth Olds / Smithsonian American Art Museum)

“They’re not evicting me. It’s just that, you know, on a fixed income, I can’t do it.”

Across the country this week, eviction filings are skyrocketing, evictions are spiking. In over 500 counties, evictions are now over their historical pre-pandemic averages. Evictions in Oklahoma County are 40% above pre-pandemic levels. Eviction filings and evictions are rising to and often exceeding pre-pandemic levels in Detroit, Michigan; Richmond, Virginia; Akron, Ohio; Nashville, Tennessee. From Virginia to Illinois to Californiaand all points between and beyond, mobile home park residents face rapidly rising rents and, again spiking eviction filings and evictions. Much of this is due to a `new breed’ of investors in the rental market, corporate investors and hedge funds, for whom, as one Richmond, Virginia, resident put it, “I’m not looked at as a human being. I’m looked at as a dollar sign”. Along with all the eviction filings and eviction proceedings, there is another multitude of people who, faced with steeply rising rents, move out. They don’t `decide to move’, they are forced to move, but because nothing was filed and no sheriffs were called, they don’t even figure in the accounting. These are the so-called `informal evictions’. They are the signature of low- and fixed-income people in the throes of the free market. According to one report today, “homeless shelters are seeing more senior citizens with no place to live.” It’s winter in America. Nowhere to go.

In Columbia Falls, Montana, Lisa Beaty, 64 years old, and her partner, Kim Hilton, 69 years old, report their landlord just doubled their rent. The two live on disability payments. They can’t find anywhere to go, and so Ms. Beaty will move into her daughter’s one-bedroom apartment and Mr. Hilton will move into his … truck. As Ms. Beaty explained, “They’re not evicting me. It’s just that, you know, on a fixed income, I can’t do it.” “That light at the end of the tunnel seems like it’s going out,” added Mr. Hilton.

In some places, people 60 and older are becoming the largest demographic living in shelters. What happens when elders move into homeless shelters, spaces not designed for seniors? As Lisa Sirois, a staffer at the Poverello Center in Missoula, Montana, explains, “As soon as someone is unable to make it to the restroom on their own, regularly transfer on their own, really operate independently, we do have to ask them to leave.” In Bozeman, Montana, an elder was asked “to find an alternative place to stay”. He was later found outside a department store, frozen to death. It’s winter in America.

With nursing homes closing, rents rising, and assistance – such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – nowhere near adequate to the cost of aging in America, the much-touted return to normal means an attack on the most vulnerable. Today, it’s the seniors, tomorrow … “They’re not evicting me. It’s just that, you know, on a fixed income, I can’t do it.” “That light at the end of the tunnel seems like it’s going out”.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: City Limits)

In Richmond, Virginia, 15 large companies are responsible for half of all evictions

In today’s news, “the number of eviction notices filed in San Francisco has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.” In New Bedford, Massachusetts, longstanding residents’ homes are being bought by developers who raise the rents precipitously, way beyond current tenants’ means, forcing them to move. In one complex, most of the residents received eviction notices. In others, they move before the notices come: “This situation is becoming the norm throughout the city. People are coming in and evicting people who have been living in these houses for 10 years”. And in Virginia, “fifteen large companies are responsible for half of all evictions in the Richmond area.” From coast to coast, this situation of eviction and forced displacement is becoming the norm. Consider Richmond and, beyond it, the Commonwealth of Virginia.

But first, consider the entire country, briefly. According to the Eviction Lab’s latest eviction report, issued on October 8: “In the 6 states and 31 cities we track, landlords have filed for 1,240, 656 evictions during the pandemic. They filed for 7,713 over the last week.” On July 27, the number of filings was 1,053,252. That means, in three months, landlords, disproportionately corporate landlords, filed 187,404 evictions. 15% of all eviction filings in the three years of the pandemic occurred in the last three months, and the number, and rate of eviction, is rising. The numbers for Virginia are equally disturbing.

According to the Richmond-based RVA Eviction Lab’s most recent report, in Richmond, 87% of eviction filings this quarter were filed by corporate landlords. Half were filed by 15 companies. This week, Richmond is set for a record week of evictions, 126 evictions. Pre-pandemic, the weekly number was between 50 and 60. This record breaking week was not a surprise, given a report the week before in which one apartment complex, James River Pointe, bought by a corporation, saw half of the residents receive eviction notices.

A major company, Homes of America, linked to a major hedge fund, Alden Global Capital, has been buying up mobile park homes across the country. This company bought a mobile home park in Montgomery County, in southwest Virginia, and immediately sent residents “notices to quit”, offering them the “opportunity” to pay $700 or vacate within a matter of days. Homes of America,has done the same in North Dakota, Florida, Louisiana, and elsewhere.

In northern Virginia, according to the RVA Eviction Lab report, with the exception of Fairfax County, which saw a dip, all the region experienced a rise in eviction filings and judgements. Alexandria lead the pack: “Eviction filings in Alexandria, Fredericksburg and Prince William increased by 109%, 75%, and 96%, respectively”. Default judgments in Alexandria are approaching pre-pandemic levels, with 26% of all evictions ending in a default judgment, meaning the tenant didn’t show and, by Virginia law, the landlord automatically wins the eviction.

This situation is becoming the norm. People are coming in and evicting people who have been living in these houses and apartments for years. These numbers do not take into account those who have `self-deported’ or been victims of `informal evictions” or “`invisible evictions.’ Essentially, when landlords offer new leases with much higher rents, many tenants are forced to move if they can’t pay.” Others move rather than suffer the Scarlet Letter of eviction filing attached to their name. An eviction filing is as damaging as an eviction, in terms of the ways in which future landlords consider an application. So, what’s going on? While there are many factors, report after report points to the entrance of major corporations and hedge funds into the rental market and the willingness, the eagerness, of corporate landlords to file for eviction. While eviction moratoria and rent control are profoundly important, as long as corporate interests are given a free hand to exert virtually monopolistic control over rental markets, the situation will worsen. That is not inevitable. Stop evictions, stop predatory rent hikes, end corporate domination of housing. This situation cannot be allowed to become the norm.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch / Alexa Welch Edlund)

(Infographic Credit: RVA Eviction Lab)

Ireland and South Africa reject the `natural’ inevitability of eviction

“Yet many of these issues, I found, could not really be thought through, and some of them, I believe, cannot even be focused unless we are conscious of the words as elements of the problems.”         Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society

The weather in the United States these days is terrible. Virginia and the Bay Area, in California, are threatened by tsunamis, while Hennepin County, in Minnesota, faces the prospect of monsoon. These are not meteorological events. They are eviction tsunamis and monsoons. While the figures of speech portray the intense destructiveness of the eviction situation, from coast to coast, they also provide a bit of an alibi, in that they naturalize the precipitous rise in eviction across the United States and beyond. Evictions are not natural events, they are created by humans, individually and in corporations. Likewise, skyrocketing rents and rates of eviction are not natural events; they too are created by individual landlords and, often, by corporate landlords. To the same degree that climate change is created by human action and especially `economic development’, so is eviction. Recently, Ireland and the Johannesburg High Court, separately, rejected the `natural’ inevitability of eviction and chose to promote the right to decent housing as a fundamental element of human dignity and the right to dignity.

In September, with winter approaching, Scotland temporarily froze rents and halted evictions. At the same time, in Ireland, with an equally bitter winter approaching, a third of renters reported they spend 50% or more of their income on rent. Rents in Ireland are “doubling, tripling”, according to Helen McEntee, Ireland’s Minister for Justice. In October, the Irish government decided to follow Scotland’s example and halted all evictions between November and March of next year. While landlords have claimed they are being `forced out’ of the market, tenants and their allies welcome the respite. Everyone recognizes that a five-month halt to evictions will not resolve the severe affordable housing shortage in Ireland, at least it will provide a momentary respite and a modest recognition of the humanity and dignity of those most vulnerable.

Meanwhile, 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.

At one level, both Ireland and the Johannesburg High Court chose to respect  the “indivisibility of all human rights”. While the Irish protections only last through the winter and the South African decision is only one court, the examples are illustrative. First, evictions can be stopped. Second, every human being and every community of human beings has the right to dignity. Third, eviction is not a natural, inevitable event. We can stop evictions. Finally, many descriptions and analysis of the housing crisis focus on large numbers, but we must also remember that every eviction is a housing crisis, and every housing crisis is an affront and an assault on all human rights. Scotland, Ireland, and the Johannesburg High Court acted in the name and service of human dignity and decency. Who will follow their example?

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Infographic credit: The Irish Times)

 

With rapidly rising eviction numbers and nowhere to go, Virginia “returns to normal”

When it comes to evictions and the lack of affordable housing, the Washington, DC, metropolitan area, the DC – Maryland – Virginia DMV, offers a somewhat mixed picture. Overall, affordable housing is critically unavailable. As to evictions, while numbers in all three areas are rising, in DC they’re rising slowly, largely thanks to governmental protections and organizing efforts. In Maryland, though eviction numbers are the highest they’ve been since the COVID pandemic began, they’re not yet approaching pre-pandemic levels. Yet. In northern Virginia, however, eviction “filings appear to be catching up … Statewide, monthly eviction filings as of September are at 87.5 percent of the `historical average.’ Monthly eviction filings have also tripled since January.” In August, Fairfax County blew past the so-called historical average by a full 20%, while Arlington County was 14% below and Alexandria was just 4% below their respective historic averages. Last week, the Virginia Poverty Law Center reported a recent 500% increase in calls, so many calls in fact they had to close the hotline temporarily. That’s the normal, once again, and it’s coming to your town soon. So, what’s going on? The common answer is “the end of protections”, which, as far as it goes, is accurate. But that “end”, that “failure”, is public policy, and It’s succeeding, brilliantly, for a few, if catastrophically, for many.

While much of the attention will focus on northern Virginia, the `return to normal’ is statewide. Between January and June, eviction filings across Virginia rose by 88%: “What tenant advocates see as a budding crisis, landlords view as a return to normal.” Here’s normal: five-day eviction notices. Here’s normal: an eviction filing attached to one’s name, much less an actual eviction, means most landlords won’t even consider the application. Here’s normal: rents in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Richmond have risen 43%, 37% and 15%, respectively; and Hampton Roads is one of the 20 most competitive rental markets in the United States this year. In Richmond, filings in September were 82% above Richmond’s historic average.

According to the most recent U.S. Census survey, 34.3% of the United States believes they face likely eviction within the next two months. That’s a bit more than one of every three households. In the Washington – Arlington – Alexandria metro area, 43.6% of households surveyed believe they face likely eviction within the next two months. Since that likely distributed, it’s reasonable to think that the numbers in Arlington and Alexandria are higher. You know what it’s called when 44% of a population is displaced? Mass eviction. And what it’s called when whole communities are wiped out?

A recent article on the current chaotic rental market in England offers four reasons for the mess in England, reasons which might afford some insight into the situation in Virginia and the country. First, a shortage of housing, partly market driven largely policy driven, “enables” landlords to ask for skyhigh rents. Second, “greedy landlords”. In the United States, rental markets have been overtaken by corporate landlords who charge much higher rents and, significantly, file for eviction more quickly, more routinely, more often. Third, lack of protection for renters. Here is where the State comes in … or better, has opted to leave the stage. For a period during the pandemic, the United States had tenant protections, and, just like child tax credits and other pandemic relief programs, those protections worked. Thanks to no fault eviction protections, mandatory eviction diversion programs, right to counsel in eviction cases, evictions dropped. State protections helped turn an existential community wide crisis, in which tenants never had a chance, into a reasonable, regulated negotiation, which, in more cases than not, never had to go to court or involve any sort of threat of permanent loss of home for oneself, one’s loved ones, one’s neighbors. In Oregon this week, people facing 50% rent increases are asking their landlords to reconsider. It’s the only thing they can do, throw themselves on the mercy of the landlord. This is the old new normal for what is called affordable housing. From Virginia to Oregon and beyond, we cannot return to normal.

 

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Tyrone Turner /  DCist / WAMU)

Winter’s coming. Scotland stops evictions and rent increases. Your government can too!

Winter is coming to the Global North. In the United Kingdom, winter can be brutal. Inflation this week hit 10.1%, the highest since 1982. Rents across the United Kingdom have skyrocketed at never-before-seen rates or levels. Scotland was hit the hardest. Last year, across the United Kingdom, close to a million rental households feared and anticipated eviction: “Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) renters, renters with children, lower-income renters, and renters that have lost income during the pandemic, are disproportionately struggling.”. Where are the women in this tragedy? Black women, Asian women, minority ethnic women. Women with children. Lower-income women. Women who have lost income during the pandemic. Where are the women? Everywhere, disproportionately.  This week, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, responding to the crisis, announced a rent freeze on public and private properties and a ban on winter evictions. In Scotland, 37% of households are rentals. The rent freeze and the ban on evictions will be in place until at least March 31.

According to Nicola Sturgeon, by October, 40% of all Scottish households would be “in fuel poverty”, 37% in “extreme fuel poverty”. As we have seen in the United States and elsewhere, fuel poverty translates to food poverty, housing poverty, education poverty, health poverty. Fuel poverty translates as well into increased domestic and community violence. There are no discrete poverty categories. As Nicola Sturgeon noted, “It is, to be blunt, a humanitarian emergency”.

Scotland cannot address fuel poverty on its own. The United Kingdom, ie Westminster, must do that. Scotland has the same impediments as many jurisdictions around the world. It can do some, but not all, things. But it has decided to do something. In Scotland as elsewhere, a rent freeze is controversial. A ban on evictions is controversial. The government of Scotland decided to welcome the controversy and move forward: “It will aim to give people security about the roof over their heads this winter through a moratorium on evictions. Secondly the legislation will include measures to deliver a rent freeze. The Scottish government does not have the power to stop your energy bills soaring but we can take action to ensure your rent does not rise. The practical effect of this statement is that rents are frozen from today. Two of the most important and fundamental sources of security for any of us are a job and a home. In times of economic and financial crisis. These can be the foundations that helps people through.”

These can be the foundations that help people through. Scotland has acted. Your government can as well.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: BBC)

“Return to normal”: Rising evictions, nowhere to go

Welcome to the so-called `liberal’ DMV, DC – Maryland – Virginia. Yesterday, Maryland’s Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have extended protection from eviction if the tenant has a pending rent relief application. That protection would have been a mere 35 days. The Governor also vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have required landlords prove their compliance with local rental laws before trying to evict a tenant. Who needs proof of compliance, when we’re talking landlords? These modest proposals were vetoed by the Governor because “Maryland already has some of the strongest tenant protection laws in the nation”. That’s a low bar, not to mention a lousy reason. On the same day, Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin vetoed bipartisan bills that would have assisted indigent public housing residents. The bills would have exempted very low-income tenants from having to pay exorbitant appeal bonds, which can run into the thousands, in order to appeal an eviction notice. The Governor explained that he preferred his vision, which was essentially to gut the entire bill and then claim victory. At least he didn’t claim Virginia already has some of the strongest protection laws in the nation. Both governors have national aspirations.

From Australia to the United Kingdom and beyond, the story is largely the same. Pandemic protections, such as they were, are coming to an end. The housing market, for purchase or rent, is hot and getting hotter. Landlords find, or create, loopholes in the already tattered safety net for renters. For example, across England and Wales, even weak restrictions on “no fault” evictions are blithely ignored. Of course, Parliament promised to and failed, or refused, to ban no fault evictions. This week, the New York legislature failed, or refused, to pass Just Cause eviction protections. Wages have not kept up with housing. Inflation is forcing low to moderate income families to decide among paying the rent or mortgage, putting food on the table, or paying for utilities. The affordable housing stock, already reduced after a decades’ long hiatus in construction, is being reduced. In many parts of the world, the mantra for those facing eviction is “Nowhere to go”.

In New Orleans, eviction filings and evictions are rising rapidly. The explanation is rising rents and decreasing availability of affordable housing. Those are symptoms, not cause. Public policy is the cause. Look at any eviction court in the country. More than 90% of landlords have legal representation, fewer than 10%, often fewer than 5%, of tenants have lawyers. There are no scales of justice in that space. Only imbalance, inequality, injustice.

In Detroit, half the residents say their financial situation is more or less the same as a year ago, 23% say improved, 23% say worse. 35% of low-income residents say they are worse off now than a year ago. 33% of Detroit renters report spending 31-50% of their income on housing. 24% of renters report spending more than half of their monthly income on housing. According to the United State government, anything 30% or higher qualifies as “housing insecure”.

This is a brief overview of news of the last 24 hours. We entered the pandemic `discovering’ the lack of data. Individual organizations and people across the country created and expanded local eviction dashboards. There still is no national data bank. Courts remain spaces of collusion between judges and landlords. And the options offered by so-called leaders, with some exceptions, are either the protections in place are sufficient, when they clearly are not, or the protections in place or offered are excessive, when they are paltry. For too many, “return to normal” means nowhere to go.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Photo Credit: Max Becherer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Women Fighting Against Miami’s Housing Crisis

Women of color have always been at the forefront of advocacy, resistance, and social change. On Tuesday, May 3, 2022, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners approved the Miami Tenants Bill of Rights. Behind its creation and passage was the Miami Workers Center, which “organiz[es] towards dignity, power, and self-determination with workers, tenants, and families in Miami, FL,” many of whom are low-wage earning women of color working in the service industry and as care workers. Miami women have been mobilizing and protesting against Miami’s housing crisis, and many spoke before the commission detailing their living conditions and abusive experiences with landlords. At the Miami-Dade County Hall, Mercedes Cabrera, a 38-year-old mother living in private housing subsidized by a federal Section 8 housing voucher, presented to the Miami-Dade County Commission photos of flooded floors and damaged walls, and pleaded for protection against a landlord attempting to evict her because she reported the poor conditions of her housing to authorities. Cabrera asserted to the County Commission, “We have no rights at all. It’s all biased in favor of landlords.” Miami’s housing crisis is not only an economic issue, it is a public health and human security issue.

The Tenants Bill of Rights includes protections for withholding rent to pay for neglected repairs by allowing tenants to deduct the costs of repairs from their rent bills. It establishes the county Office of Housing Advocacy, which creates a telephone hotline for tenants who need assistance and oversees compliance with tenant rules. It protects tenants from retaliation if they seek government help in dealing with a landlord, particularly if the landlord pursues an eviction if a tenant called the helpline within the last 60 days. Additionally, the bill requires landlords to notify tenants of a sale of their home at closing and help them identify a new landlord. It prevents discrimination based on past evictions by prohibiting general questions about evictions during the application process, although landlords can still research past evictions. Black and Hispanic mothers and children are disproportionately impacted by eviction. They are “three times more likely to be evicted than another tenant owning the same amount of back rent.” Having an eviction on one’s record makes finding another place to rent challenging. At the same time, Miami Workers Center reports that less than ten percent of tenants in eviction court have access to legal representation.

Women are disproportionately impacted by Miami’s housing crisis, especially women of color. A 2016 study reports that 20.5% of women in Miami-Dade live under the poverty line, nearly five percent more than men. Miami is the most unaffordable housing market in the country, with rent prices up 30% to 40%. As wages remain stagnant and expenses rise, it is becoming harder and harder for Miamians, especially low-wage, service industry and care workers, to get by. The cost of living in Miami is 17% higher than the national average. According to the Community Justice Project, 20,363 evictions were filed from the beginning of the pandemic (March 12, 2020) through December 31, 2021.

Along with housing costs, housing discrimination is also rising. In the first three months of 2022, one in four complaints to the Miami-Dade Commission on Human Rights was related to housing. Erin New, the director of the commission, states that in addition to housing complaints, there is also an increase in complaints related to “source of income,” which harms vulnerable populations. The majority of complaints, New says, are “members of traditionally underserved, disadvantaged groups. People of color. People with disabilities. Members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Housing security is critical for formerly incarcerated people and to prevent incarceration. Many nuisance crime arrests in Miami are related to homelessness. In 2021, City of Miami commissioners passed a resolution (4 to 1) that makes homeless encampments illegal, even though housing prices have nearly doubled and wages do not align with rising costs. Without access to affordable and stable housing, it is almost impossible for individuals to avoid homelessness or actions of survival deemed illegal. Women of color are the most vulnerable to becoming homeless after incarceration and face high recidivism rates.

The Miami Tenants Bill of Rights is a victory for tenants, workers, and youth, but, as the Miami Workers Center says, “it is only as strong as it is enforced.” It does not solve the housing crisis, but it is the first step in holding the government and landlords accountable for providing secure housing. The people who build and sustain Miami, the domestic workers, service workers, teachers, janitors, and home care workers, deserve to live here affordably without the fear of eviction and homelessness, and people need protection from arbitrary incarceration. Tenants, and women, are continuing to build power in Miami-Dade.

 

(By Madeline Ley)

(Madeline Ley is a Miami-based, born and raised in Miami, activist)

(Photo credit: Miami Workers Center)

We criminalized and demonized relief for forty plus years: Of Eviction

The U.S. federal government released $45 billion for rent relief. What happened? On one hand, a great deal … for those lucky few who received the money. But they are the lucky and they are the few. Otherwise, the money has mostly sat in the proverbial vaults. Why? Many policy analysts, activists, advocates and just plain folk have looked at the situation and concluded that many, actually most, states and localities created impossibly cumbersome processes that tenants often found inscrutable, if they found the process at all, and landlords found, or claimed to find, too `burdensome’? While the analyses are informative and hopefully will help streamline programs, significant questions remain. Why did states and localities design such difficult processes for relief? If you were standing on the deck of a ship and saw someone drowning in the water, how many preconditions would you lay before throwing the person a lifeline?

First, as eviction researchers, anti-eviction activists and advocates, and anyone who’s ever been in an eviction proceeding concur, eviction processes in the United States have long been weighted heavily in favor of landlords. Typically, 90% of landlords show up with attorneys, while 10% or fewer of tenants have any legal representation. Then there are arcane processes no one really understands, except that they make it almost impossible for tenants to get anything like justice. For example, Nevada has something called summary eviction process in which a tenant receives a seven-day eviction notice for non-payment of rent. If the tenant doesn’t file an affidavit in court within seven days, the landlord receives automatic approval to evict the tenant. No summons, no complaint, no hearing. The tenant must sue in order to be sued to be evicted. If your head is spinning, call it property vertigo.

Many localities and even some states have passed or are considering right to counsel that would begin to readjust the imbalance and injustice. That would be an important step.

At the same time, questions remain. Are all situations of non-payment really the same? Is there any concern for those who suddenly lose their jobs, fall sick, live with someone who falls sick, and the list goes on? The answer, bluntly, is No. And that No is our national policy of relief.

Since 1980, every national government has demonized and criminalized those who need, and deserve, relief and assistance. From Welfare Queen to Ending Welfare as We Know It, the focus of the assault has been on Black and Brown women. What’s been good for the national goose has been even better for the state and local ganders. Funds for public services were cut, deeper and deeper, in successive decades, those who in any way relied on those funds were criminalized and demonized further and further.

And so here we are, in the second year of a pandemic with its consequent economic crisis, and we’re somehow shocked that states put security before relief. Why is self-attestation such a difficult point for states and localities? Because they fear fraud. Why do they fear fraud? Because those who seek help, who need help, are, by definition, demonic and criminal. Ignore the history of banks in creating the last recession. Too big to fail, too big to jail. Ignore the history of corporate landlords abusing eviction processes to harass tens of thousands of tenants. Ignore the recent history of corporate landlords `finding loopholes’ in the CDC moratorium to continue their practices of mass eviction. Focus instead on the possibility of fraud and create processes that are so difficult, so burdened with evidence, that really no one is meant to apply. And that qualifies as success, by the metrics of the last 40 some years.

This is not even about putting people first, although we should. A government and a country that cares about people at all would set up structures to help them immediately and then worry over the details later. $45 billion would go a long way, but instead it sits in the proverbial vault. If you are standing on the deck of a ship and see someone drowning in the water, do not delay, do not lay preconditions, throw the person a lifeline. Anything else is a crime.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Fresno Bee / SW Parra)