Eviction: Put Your Thinking to the Test
With the expiration of the Massachusetts ban on Saturday, eviction is in the public consciousness now more than any time in memory. While most people are aware that eviction is a legal process allowing a landlord to remove a tenant, it is also emerging as a significant driver of poverty and homelessness in our communities, and an unnecessary, costly expense that landlords and taxpayers bear as a result. As we face a potential tripling of evictions in the Commonwealth because of the Covid-19 pandemic, breaking out of traditional ways of thinking about the issue of evictions will be key to developing more effective funding and policy solutions to help families and communities though this crisis. Read on and put your understanding of eviction to the test.
1. Eviction Drives Poverty
A common misunderstanding is that eviction is simply a condition of poverty –the sad result of an individual or family unable to pay their rent. Sociologist, author of the bestselling book Evicted, and Eviction Lab founder, Matthew Desmond argues that eviction is better understood as a driver of poverty. With the first and largest national data-set on eviction, the Eviction Lab demonstrates that eviction is destabilizing, displacing people from their community and support network, costing them money, often their job, access to education, healthcare, wreaking havoc on their credit and rental history, and even making them ineligible for housing services in the future. When communities do not provide equitable access to stable housing, the most vulnerable people and families inevitably become trapped in cycles of instability, sometimes for generations, that keep them from accessing the very institutions and services, like education and career training, designed to help them.
2. Housing Stability is Everything
In light of the COVID-19 public health emergency, many leaders are planning to make their workplaces or communities more resilient. Our #2 thing to know about eviction is that housing instability creates barriers to achieving every other goal. Data on both virus transmission and unemployment demonstrates that housing stability matters to people’s access to work, childcare, education, healthcare, and ability to quarantine when necessary. Without stable housing, people are limited in their ability to participate in civic life, maintain supportive social connections, receive appropriate medical care, avoid criminal justice systems, and more. Housing instability will work against our best efforts to bring down virus transmission rates, improve employment rates, or address critical issues in public education. It results in unaccompanied youth being in unsafe living arrangements and parents unable to support their child’s access to a virtual classroom.
3. Eviction is Expensive
Eviction costs tenants as they miss work to attend court proceedings or make new housing or shelter arrangements, navigate damaged credit, potentially abandon belongings or rent a storage facility, and move. These costs burden families who already struggle to pay for housing with every hour they can possibly work, even picking-up extra shifts or side jobs to pay rent. Given these are the jobs lost to COVID-related closures and that childcare remains at reduced capacity, we can expect the public health crisis to continue limiting many tenants’ ability to afford our region’s high housing costs. Eviction is also costly to landlords. This is one reason WinnCompanies, for example, has extended their own eviction moratorium. In terms of public costs, eviction results in increased use of shelter, emergency medical care, specialized transportation, and educational supports – all costs associated with an emergency response system. While emergency response is necessary, it is not cost-effective, nor does it provide a lasting solution. Preventative approaches, such as landlord-tenant mediation, rental assistance, or offering landlords the opportunity to convert units to Affordable Housing, keep people in their homes and avoid the emergency response system.
Why does thinking differently about eviction matter?
People are resilient. Tenants navigating low-wage work and high housing costs are drawing on every possible resource to maintain their housing because no one wants to be evicted from their home. United Way hopes to see their experiences reflected in the policy solutions that respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Eviction is not just a legal process, but a devasting experience that MAPC estimates 60,000 households will face when the moratorium is lifted. A data-driven, research-based commitment to maximize housing stability is what will keep us from supporting simplistic and insufficient programs that serve people but do not solve the crisis they face.
The alternative is affordable, stable housing. This is why United Way is a champion for permanent supportive housing, partnering with Massachusetts and Housing Shelter Alliance (MHSA) and the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) to establish the Commonwealth’s first Pay for Success contract to successfully provide housing to 1,000 previously unhoused people. It is why we mobilized expansion of the Renew Collaborative, an effort led by HomeStart to divert funding currently spent on eviction so it can instead be spent on prevention resources that keep people in their homes.
For United Way and our network of nonprofit and corporate partners, this issue is a priority because housing is the grounding for all of our work to promote the financial opportunity and educational success of everyone who lives in Massachusetts and the Seacoast of New Hampshire. With this goal in mind, we call on others to join us in advocating for better solutions, better coordination, and more thriving communities for all. You can learn more about eviction by watching this video series, listening to this podcast series, or reading Evicted.