Evictions and the Affordable Rental Crisis

Currently, our nation is in what Brian Sullivan, spokesperson of the Department of Housing and Urban Development identified as “an affordable rental crisis” . In 2015, the number of people who pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent, had increased to 21.3 million households. “Those paying more than half of their income rose to a record 11.4 million.”  “An NPR analysis of data from the Urban Institute found that nearly half of all counties in the U.S. saw a decline in affordable housing availability from 2000 to 2013, while fewer than 7 percent of counties saw an improvement.”

Being cost burdened has caused some families to be faced with the issue of eviction. When a tenant believes that he or she has a reasonable explanation for why they are behind on their rent, they go to tenant court to plead their case. It is common for tenants to fight eviction on the grounds that they were withholding rent from their landlord due to substandard living conditions. Other individuals go to tenant court to petition for more time to pay their rent. NPR did a recent piece on the tenant court system in Baltimore, and what brings people to use the system.

According to the NPR piece, most of the people who end up in tenant court are African-American mothers who have a high school diploma or less. Only 15 percent of them get housing aid such as vouchers to help cover their rent, and most of them lose their cases. In general, most tenants who are taken to court for being behind on their rent have no legal representation while most landlords do. However, studies have shown that tenants with lawyers have greater success at avoiding eviction.

Not only is there a rental crisis, according to Harvard Sociologist, Matthew Desmond, there is a national eviction epidemic. He highlights that, “Most poor, renting families pay more than 50 percent of their income on housing. One in 11 expects to be evicted within the next two months.”  Many people who are evicted end up homeless, or in poorer living conditions from which they left, which makes their poverty more severe. Desmond notes that evictions don’t just happen because someone is in poverty, but they are also a cause of poverty, by making lives more insecure. “People don’t just lose their homes in evictions… you often lose your neighborhood and your school. Children often have to switch schools and miss long stretches”.

Our widespread eviction issue is a problem for all parties involved. According to Mike Clark, a board member of the National Apartment Association Clark, landlords prefer not to evict tenants if they don’t have to, because it is costly, and finding a new tenant takes up time. Furthermore, landlords explain that when they don’t receive timely payments from their tenants, it hinders them from being able to make the necessary repairs to the building.

There are various factors creating this high eviction rate, such as increasing rents, national wage stagnation and the overall lack of affordable housing. Some proposed solutions that I came across to address the eviction crisis include providing free legal help for low-income tenants. Another idea is a universal housing voucher system, for people below a particular income. Mark Clark from the National Apartment Association listed a host of housing incentives that he believes could be used to address the issue, by increasing the affordable housing stock, such as: “Tax credits, property tax breaks, reduced utility rates, reduced hookups, and zoning alternatives”.

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