Category Archives: Budget cuts

Displacement Comes in all Forms

A couple weeks ago marked the 11th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. August 29th, 2005 was a historically disastrous day as the peak of the storm was tearing through the streets of the southeastern United States.  Strong winds knocked trees onto cars and houses. Torrential rainfall led to the flooding of streets and homes. Everything was destroyed. At least 1,800 people were killed by the storm and subsequent flooding, and more than 400,000 people were displaced from their home, community, and city.

Everyone knows what happened that fateful summer month in 2005. Countless families lost loved ones as well as the place they called home.  But did you know that in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina’s 11th anniversary, 11 families in DC were displaced after severe weather damaged their DC public housing apartments?

Natural disasters come in all shapes and forms. On one hand, it can be the largest hurricane the United States has ever seen. But on the other hand, it can be something as small as a thunderstorm. Both on seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum, yet both providing the same outcome: the damaging of homes and the displacement of families. Although a huge natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina is a tragedy, it should not take something so catastrophic to bring the issue of displacement to light.

Families are not only displaced by natural disasters, but by accidents as well. Did you know that in the middle of August, an apartment complex in Silver Spring, MD caught on fire and exploded? At least 7 were killed and more than 100 people were displaced.

These are just some of the few ways families become displaced every day. Take the story of Jose Hernandez for example, a Salvadoran immigrant who has lived in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Northwest DC for over 25 years. For the past decade, he and his landlord have been in fisticuffs over increased rents amid terrible living conditions. This article highlights the injustices that minority renters face at the hands of their landlord. Mr. Hernandez is still battling with his landlord, but for many, displacement due to increasing rent is just something that comes with being a lower-income renter.

In an article put out by Greater Greater Washington, the relationship between rising rents and the District’s lower-income renters is very apparent. From this article we learn several important issues:

1. “The rent is too damn high”: over 60 percent of extremely low income, and over 30 percent of very low income renters, spend more than half their income on housing.

2. Rent in the District is rising faster than income, particularly for low-to-moderate income households: for those in the middle to lower end of the income distribution, wages have remained fairly stationary while rent has continued to increase.

3. DC’s supply of affordable housing has drastically decreased: “between 2002 and 2013, affordable units (those priced under $800) went from making up 40% of the rental stock to barely 20%. “

Displacement happens every day and there isn’t one sole cause. That is why preventing it, or minimizing it as much as possible, is truly important. Changing, creating, and sustaining political policy is key when it comes to mitigating displacement. The tenants can only do so much. It is up to the government to put in place the right laws and assistance programs to reduce the number of families displaced each year.

The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) is one of the very few laws in place to help tenants. This act allows tenants the opportunity to purchase their place of residence before the landlord sells the property to a developer (or anyone else). But there needs to be more.

Programs that help lower-income families transition from renting to homeowning are also extremely vital, as homeowners don’t have to deal with rising rent brought on by greedy landlords.

Other necessities include imposing rent controls to keep people like Jose Hernandez and his family in their homes; raising the minimum wage to allow lower-income minorities the chance to keep up with their ever-increasing rent; and creating and establishing relocation assistance programs for those who are displaced due to natural disasters, severe weather, and house fires.

Families are displaced every day, and it is up to the government to help protect these families and reduce displacement.

The Racial Wealth Gap: Why Home Buying is a Must

Manna Blog PhotoIn an out-of-touch and at times baffling article, Washington Post opinion writer Charles Lane recently penned a piece he entitled “Why the decline of the homeownership rate is good news.”

He’s referring to the fact that the homeownership rate in the U.S. has dropped below 63 percent to its lowest level in decades. We covered this news slightly differently several weeks ago.

In the article, Lane tries to simultaneously make the case that homeownership is a bad investment and that the government is unable to affect homeownership rates. The only option, he says, is to get government out of the housing market.

Homeownership has long been the American Dream, with studies showing that it contributes in positive ways to everything from education to wealth-building. So why does Lane think that Dream is dead? His argument can, with some effort, be broken into two pieces.

  1. The Great Recession shows that homeownership is too risky to be a good investment.

“If the Great Recession taught anything, it was that… homeownership is not a surefire ticket into the middle class. It can be downright risky.”

This is an interesting example from someone who is advocating for less government involvement in the housing market. The Great Recession, as many readers may recall, was precipitated by the collapse of the predatory mortgage market.

Mortgage brokers and Wall Street bankers, who for the better part of a decade had been getting rich off of deceitful loans to poor families (and people of color at disproportionate rates regardless of income), saw their party come to a bitter end in 2007.

That crash logically left two options: to provide greater government oversight of loans, which we know for a fact to be effective from CRA data, or to let homeownership become an exclusive pursuit of the wealthy.

Homeownership remained a solid investment throughout the recession for many low- and moderate-income families with fair mortgages (and good counseling), especially now on the other side of the collapse as prices begin to rise again.

As you might have guessed, however, Lane picks option two, where owner-occupied homes become the yachts of the future.

But jettisoning homeownership is unavoidable for Lane because of his second point…

  1. The government has no place in the housing market.

Why? Because… Europe.

“[Europe’s] modern experience suggests no simple connection between a high homeownership rate and the ‘positive externalities’ often attributed to it.”

Lane makes a convoluted argument about European countries, some with homeownership rates higher than the U.S., others lower, and draws the conclusion that government policy doesn’t matter.

But to borrow a quip, it must be noted that we are not Denmark.

Government intervention has clearly had huge impacts on homeownership rates in the U.S., although it’s not surprising that Lane has missed this.

Lane, like many Americans, seems to have only a vague understanding of the racial wealth gap in America. He does mention this phenomenon briefly, right after celebrating falling homeownership and right before deriding government involvement in it.

“…the reconcentration of home equity, while positive for those who own homes and for the overall stability of the economy, is regressive with respect to wealth distribution. This is especially so because African Americans and Hispanics remain less likely to own homes than whites.”

A fleeting moment of insight. The gap in homeownership between whites and people of color is a huge part of the reason that black families on average have just 1/16th the net worth of white families. The numbers are similar for Latinos.

But what Lane fails to mention is that these lower homeownership rates for people of color are no accident.

A whole series of racist government policies, some of which were dismantled just fifty years ago, provided bountiful opportunities for white families to own their homes, while locking black and Latino families out of the process.

And unsurprisingly, that dynamic shows up in the data. The reason white families have a homeownership rate today that’s about 30 points higher than black and Latino families is precisely because of this government intervention.

U.S. homeownership rate by race over time; from the Economic Policy Institute

We can see that since 1975, shortly after the end of explicitly racist housing policies, the homeownership rate for different racial groups has moved more or less in sync. All groups had made solid gains by 2006 before the crash wiped them out.

So a recap on our history lesson…

In the early 20th century, the government made a push for white families to become homeowners. This effort was successful and resulted in higher homeownership rates and greater wealth for white families.

In the decades after the U.S. did away with its explicitly racist policies, homeownership rates for different racial groups began moving together. By 2006, all Americans had seen an increase in the homeownership rate.

But due to an under-regulated mortgage market, which disproportionately targeted black families with sub-prime loans, many of those gains were erased. Families with fair mortgages who were able to keep their homes have still seen solid returns on their investments—a point Lane unintentionally hammered home at the opening of his article—but many others have not had that opportunity.

The logical question, then, would seem to be what the government can do to close the racial gap in wealth and homeownership that it has created.

Unfortunately, the logic in Lane’s article is about on par with his framing of history.

Farewell to MANNA – A Year of Growth


By Ruth Bordett, AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer through NeighborWorks 

With my time as AmeriCorps VISTA at MANNA  nearing the end, I would like to share some of my thoughts about my year as part of the development department at MANNA. When I arrived at MANNA in August 2015, I had little to no knowledge of affordable housing and its role in the District. I previously wrote a blog post in December (“Wading Through a Sea of Housing Jargon”) about the difficulty I had in grasping all of the housing jargon and procedures that have become essential to my work at MANNA. The past year has served as a crash course in affordable housing policies and development. I am proud to say that I am walking away from my year at MANNA with a much better comprehension of the importance of affordable housing.

All of my memories from MANNA share the common thread of serving as proof of the long and impactful history the organization has had on so many families and the Washington, D.C. community as a whole. I am honored to have witnessed the role MANNA has taken over the past year in striving to provide services and resources to the community East of the Anacostia River. The creation of our Ward 8 Homebuyers’ Club and the annual East of the River Homebuyer Fair are important strides towards our mission and continuing to deepen our partnership with communities in overlooked areas of the city, like Wards 7 and 8. Additionally, MANNA’s 24-unit condo complex in Southeast, the Buxton, was featured in a Washington Post article (“Finding an Affordable Anchor in D.C.’s Wave of Gentrification”). Seeing the hard work of my colleagues and MANNA’s buyers documented in this way has been extremely rewarding.

MANNA’s staff are truly a family and have always been welcoming to me. This is evident at our large fundraisers, like Friends of MANNA, and in the lunchroom each work day. The staff recently put together a retirement party for our former Director of Homebuyer Education, Willamena Samuels. The Homebuyers’ Club room was filled with guests and almost every person present had a personal story or sentiment to share about Willamena. Her 18 years of dedication to MANNA and each person’s obvious appreciation for her and the organization’s long history is what makes MANNA special.

Despite my lack of experience in affordable housing, each person I have encountered at MANNA has welcomed me and imparted their knowledge to aid the fight for affordable housing in D.C. For this, I will be forever grateful. As I continue to pursue a future in nonprofit work, I hope to stay connected to MANNA. MANNA has already left its mark on the District’s history, but I know it will continue to serve and improve our community for many years to come.

Congressional Republicans Take Aim at Federal Housing Funds

As June draws to a close, it’s becoming clear that local and national leaders have very different ideas about how to best celebrate National Homeownership Month.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (

                                                       House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (

While the District government led its June Housing Bloom initiative, Republicans in the House and Senate released two separate plans that would result in billions of federal dollars being directed away from affordable housing. This comes at a time when more American renters than ever before are severely cost burdened, paying over 50 percent of their income for housing each month.

In the lower chamber, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been busy rolling out his comprehensive legislative agenda. Titled “A Better Way,” Ryan’s proposal contains the traditional conservative mainstays: consolidation and elimination of federal programs, work requirements for families receiving government assistance, and the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

In its tax reform recommendations, it decries the current corporate tax code, which it says is “littered with special-interest deductions and credits.” To fix this (and to at least partially off-set its massive corporate tax rate cut), the plan calls for the elimination of all corporate deductions except those used for research and development.

Caught up in the bloodbath is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC, pronounced “lie tech”), a program that has provided financing for over 2 million affordable units since its creation under the Reagan Administration. That number includes thousands of units in Washington, DC and even a current affordable rental project of MANNA’s.

LIHTC provides a tax credit to developers for housing that is affordable to renters making 60 percent or less of their Area Median Income—apparently just the kind of “special interest deduction” that Ryan’s plan finds so repugnant.

Senate Bill

In the Senate, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the “Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act,” which would dismantle all current federal housing programs and replace them with a block grant to states.

Modeled off of legislation announced by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) earlier in June, it would mean the end of federal housing funds for means-tested programs. Instead, states would need to develop their own plans.

These new plans would also have to deal with ever-decreasing funds—the bill calls for cutting federal housing aid in half over the next decade.

Rep. Ryan has recently been attempting to reform Republican rhetoric on poverty, chastising himself and his colleagues for referring to poor mothers and others receiving government assistance as “takers.” It seems, however, that these reforms were indeed purely rhetorical.

If you would like to express your feelings about the importance of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, you can do so at Scroll to the bottom of the page to find the “Tax Blueprint Feedback” form.

Empowerment – Jobs and Homeownership

EOR Fair 2016MANNA’s 5th Annual Homebuyer Fair and Job Tour took place  on May 14, 2016. The event sought to bring homeownership opportunities and resources to D.C. residents in Wards 7 and 8. This year, MANNA partnered with Training Grounds, an organization that “helps young adults and adults with the training necessary to obtain and maintain living wage careers.” Training Grounds focuses on creating jobs in and for residents from Wards 7 and 8, an area that is severely lacking in job opportunities. MANNA and Training Grounds have partnered on several initiatives in the past, including last year’s Paint the Block event to clean up an area in the Ward 7 neighborhood of Deanwood and equitable banking advocacy. Union Temple Baptist Church, just off of MLK Ave. SE, served as the venue for the event, providing the perfect setting for outreach to the community.

Some of the businesses and organizations who brought their knowledge and resources to share with event participants included Capital One, HPAP, Anacostia River Realty, Housing Counseling Services, Prince George’s Community College Workforce Program and Casey Trees, among many others. Many visitors were able to talk one-on-one with the vendors, enabling them to receive advice that was catered to their own personal needs and questions. MANNA staff were also present at the Homebuyer Fair to discuss opportunities for getting involved with our Homebuyer’s Club (HBC) and Housing Advocacy Team (HAT).

MANNA volunteer and homeownership expert, Frank Demarais, held a “Pathways to Homeownership” workshop at the fair to discuss personal and housing finance. Demarais covered topics like credit management, budgeting, and mortgage readiness. The presentation also discussed the value of good credit when pursuing homeownership and strategies to maximize credit. Highlighting homeownership as the number one wealth builder, the workshop was an in-depth example of the type of programming MANNA offers through the Homebuyer’s Club. MANNA’s newest HBC chapter, the Ward 8 Homebuyer’s Club, has made our homeowner education and financial counseling more accessible to residents of Ward 8.

With a prevalent lack of homeownership and job opportunities available to residents in Wards 7 and 8, MANNA and Training Ground’s collaboration at this year’s event is one example of the type of work we would like to provide and build upon. It’s about respect, connecting folks to education, resources and community, and supporting people and neighborhood power. By providing homeownership education/resources and job training, while also partnering with local residents and initiatives, MANNA and Training Grounds plan to continue supporting Wards 7 and 8 to move forward and empower themselves.

Ruth Bordett is an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer at MANNA.

Reflections From A Blogger


For the past nine months, I have had the pleasure of being the Policy and Outreach Intern here at MANNA. In this position, one of my key duties was serving as the primary blogger for MANNA’s Housing Advocacy Team. I came to MANNA in August 2015, a few days before the start of my first semester of graduate school. Now that my first year of grad school is over, my time with MANNA has come to an end as well.

I have been passionate about affordable housing for some time now. In undergrad, I studied affordable housing and conducted research on people’s perceptions of affordable housing. I also had the opportunity to intern for an organization that financially supports the development of affordable housing, and worked for a separate organization that provided games and activities as a part of a night time summer program that took place in public housing communities. Through these experiences, I learned that every form of housing on the continuum is important, but I was especially attracted to the concept of affordable homeownership.

When I interviewed with MANNA, I learned about their history and how they have been around since 1982. I was impressed by the fact that they have their own construction team, which has developed about 1200 units. I was captivated by MANNA’s impact, and their ability to empower families and revitalize entire neighborhoods through homeownership. I was also drawn to MANNA because in addition to developing housing, they give District residents the tools they need to purchase and maintain their homes by providing homebuyers education and counseling.  And MANNA trains residents how to become community leaders and advocates for housing programs.

I was thrilled when MANNA offered me this internship position, and I have looked forward to coming into the office every morning since my first day. Not only is MANNA true to their mission, but their staff is friendly and genuine. Many of MANNA’s past home buyers visit the office, become involved in the Housing Advocacy Team, or find other ways to remain connected to the organization. I view this as evidence that people value the services that they received from MANNA, and they believe in the organization’s work. Also, MANNA has a strong familial dynamic, which I believe is what makes folks want to stick around.

The biggest take-away that I have as I leave MANNA is that anyone who is determined to own a home can do so, when they are given support and access to the right tools. Also, being here at MANNA has strengthened my belief that homeownership can be used as a tool to close the racial wealth gap.

I am truly grateful for this experience and how it helped me grow personally. I am appreciative to MANNA for taking a chance on me and giving me the opportunity to meet great people – two of which passed earlier this year, yet I am still inspired by the interactions that I had with them. Moreover, I am thankful to you, the reader, for checking out our page, and reading what I had to say over these past several months. Thank you.


*Victoria Palacio*

Homeownership Town Hall – Making DC Homes Affordable

2016 Homeownership Town Hall flyer English

On June 4th, MANNA will be hosting our first annual Homeownership Town Hall in collaboration with our partners LEDC and CNHED. The concept of this event was envisioned by our Housing Advocacy Team (HAT), and they have been diligently     working to make this event a success.

What is a Homeownership Town Hall you ask? It is an event in which both current homeowners, and future homeowners are able to gather together, and share and receive resources to improve their homeownership experience. This event also provides attendees with the opportunity to hear their elected officials and government agencies speak about and commit to homeownership initiatives.

In addition, we will have several workshops at this event that attendees will be able to choose from. Guests will have the opportunity to learn how to improve their credit; they will be able to receive home improvement and maintenance tips, as well as learn how to advocate for tools that make homeownership in DC affordable. We will also have a number of vendors at this event who will be able to share resources that can help improve people’s homeownership experience.

One of the most unique features of this event is that it will offer future DC homebuyers an opportunity to meet, build relationships and learn from current MANNA homeowners and others. It takes commitment, resilience and support to purchase a home in DC. This event will provide guests with the opportunity to gain the support and knowledge they need to purchase a home from people who have completed the home buying process.

Here at MANNA, we know the value of affordable homeownership. Homeownership has been linked to a number of positive outcomes for families and communities, which is why we want to ensure that everyone who wants to become a homeowner in the District has the resources they need, in order to do so. Increased homeownership has been found to lead to a decrease in crime within communities, and children of homeowners have a greater likelihood of completing college, than children on non-homeowners. In addition, homeowners benefit from being able to accumulate wealth from the equity in their homes, which they are able to use to invest in themselves and their families. Past MANNA homeowners have used their equity to start their own businesses and to send their children to college. Homeownership is an amazing opportunity, and the goal of this event is to get people excited about homeownership advocacy and connecting folks to resources to make homeownership possible and maintainable in the long-term.

We hope that you come out to this event, and bring a friend! It is on Saturday, June 4, 2016 from 1:00pm to 4:30pm. It will be held at All Souls Unitarian Church – 1500 Harvard Rd NW in Washington, DC. We look forward to seeing you there! CLICK HERE to learn more about the event.


A Case for Universal Housing Vouchers in DC

MANNA is a strong supporter of the continuum of housing.  The continuum entails a range of housing services and options, which consists of various forms of supportive housing, assisted rental housing, and assisted homeownership. Every aspect of the continuum is important, and in order for the continuum to be effective there have to be mechanisms in place that allow people to move from supportive housing, to homeownership. It is also important to note that each component of continuum is unique, and that it serves a particular function. When one aspect of the continuum is weak, it places excess pressure on the other parts of the continuum. For example: gaps in supportive housing result in individuals becoming homeless. Lack of affordable rentals forces families to turn to shelters, when what they really need is an apartment that they could afford on their salary. While lack of assistance for or development of affordable homeownership forces people to continue to rent, when many of those people can become mortgage ready and some desire to have a place they can call their own. There needs to be funding support for all of the housing options on the continuum, but an equally important endeavor is ensuring that enough affordable housing exists to house people.

According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 64 percent of DC’s lowest income residents spend half or more of their income on housing. Many moderate-income families in the District have been identified as being cost burdened as well. This is problematic, because being cost burdened prevents a household from being able to afford basic necessities. It also leaves them without a safety net in the event of an emergency, and makes them susceptible to homelessness (Hendey et al 2014). Furthermore, in DC, the cost of rent has been steadily increasing, while incomes have remained stagnant (Rivers 2015). “The number of apartments renting for less than $800 a month fell from almost 60,000 in 2002 to 33,000 in 2013” (Rivers 2015). Moreover, recent findings suggest that there are very few low-cost housing options in the private market, other than subsidized housing.

Subsidized rentals can take different forms. They can be restricted to a certain building such as public housing, or to an apartment complex that designates some of their units as “affordable”. Research is finding that housing vouchers are the most economical way to provide affordable rentals. However, the problem is that there are not enough affordable housing vouchers to go around. According to the DC Housing Authority, 10,500 families in the city participate in the Housing Choice Voucher Program, and thousands more are on the waiting list. DC has seen an increase in the number of available rental units, but the problem is that the number of affordable rentals is decreasing. In order to address the lack of vouchers provided by the federal government, DC created its own Local Rent Subsidy Program in 2007. However, that program is unable to serve everyone who needs rental assistance.

Research has been conducted in other states, exploring the idea of providing housing vouchers to everyone who needs them. In Wisconsin, and Indiana, an experimental housing program was implemented for 10 years. The program provided housing vouchers to all low income residents who qualified. These residents would pay up to 30% of their income towards their rent; if their rent exceeded that 30% mark, the voucher would cover the rest of the cost. The study found that the vouchers encouraged landlords to keep up with building maintenance because all of the low-income residents had vouchers, and in order to use the vouchers, certain building codes had to be met. Furthermore, the vouchers spurred the development of additional market rate units, and the study also found that the vouchers did not have a substantial impact on market rents (Currie 2006). Of course DC’s housing market is different from that of Indiana and Wisconsin in a number of ways however, hypothetically, a universal housing voucher system could be modified to meet the District’s needs.

Currently, the housing voucher system in the U.S. works like a lottery, in which only the “lucky” low income earners are able to receive them. Conversely, if a housing voucher program was expanded so that everyone who qualified received the voucher, it could prevent renters from being cost burdened, incentivize the market to supply additional non-luxury units, and protect families from slipping into homelessness. DC has been making strides towards addressing our affordable housing crisis. I wonder whether the District would be open to taking a step, as big as implementing a universal housing voucher, in order to address this issue.


In Memory of Our Dear Friend, Marilyn Phillips

Sadly, on Monday, April 11, 2016, MANNA lost Marilyn Phillips, a dear advocate, volunteer, colleague and friend. Marilyn had been a member of both MANNA’s Homebuyer’s Club and Housing Advocacy Team for the past four years. Marilyn and her husband purchased a MANNA home at the Buxton condominiums in Historic Anacostia, just a couple blocks from their apartment. She loved her neighborhood and dedicated herself to promoting positive and inclusive change in Ward 8. She and her husband worked on preparing their finances and improving their credit score for a few years before they purchased their home, putting forth a tremendous amount of commitment and effort. Marilyn believed that “housing is the foundation of our communities”, and she wanted other people to experience the benefits of homeownership as well.

Unfortunately, Marilyn was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006; she was on the road to recovery, when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer to the bone in 2009. Due to her health conditions, and many doctor appointments, she was unable to continue her job as a legal assistant. However, her cancer went into remission for several years and during that time she became very active with MANNA. She testified at a number of City Council hearings and spoke at numerous Advocacy Days and Town Halls through CNHED. She also volunteered in MANNA’s office on a weekly basis, helping people secure affordable rentals and a host of other things.

Marilyn refused to let her health challenges tie her down – she was a beautiful fighter, for herself and for others. She made sure that she was available to help out at MANNA, and advocate for housing programs. Marilyn was a loving and caring person, always ready to lend a helping hand. She loved MANNA, and we loved her. We are better because of having known Marilyn.

Below are some videos and photos of Marilyn being the wonderful advocate and DC resident that she was, that she will always be in our hearts:

Feb 2013 – Marilyn cheers on Mayor Gray’s affordable housing announcement of $100 million –

May 2013 – Marilyn speaks at Tenant Town Hall –

2014 – Marilyn and other Ward 8 residents speak about what homeownership means to them –



Marilyn (bottom right) with MANNA’s Housing Advocacy Team.



Marilyn on her back porch with Mayor Marion Barry at the grand opening of the Buxton Condominiums.



Marilyn and her husband Kelvin after they settled on their new home.


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”.