New Orleans In the ACORN Home Savers Campaign we’ve learned a lot about the contemporary issues for lower income families struggling with the potentially predatory nature of land contracts as a route to home ownership, but in doing the organizing we have been constantly confronted with the reality that the real trigger for forcing people into these arrangements is the shortage of affordable rental units and the soaring eviction rates. Thanks to a mammoth data project spearheaded by Matthew Desmond, author of the critically important book, Evicted, in 2017, and now a sociologist at Princeton, we now have some snapshots at how broadly distributed this crisis is in various parts of the country.
Desmond and his team looked at 83 million property records, and where the data was accessible, they found over 900,000 records of evictions. His book focused on families in Milwaukee. In truth the rates are high in that city and many other urban corridors, but they don’t lead this terrible league.
A map in the New York Times demonstrated the horror that lower income tenants are facing particularly in the Southeast and Midwest. The majority of counties in South Carolina were in the highest percentile with Columbia the capital ranking number eight in the top ten cities in the country with the highest rates of eviction at 8.2% and North Charleston, South Carolina claiming the dubious title of number one with a rate that doubled Columbia’s at 16.5%. North Carolina was hardly an improvement with most of its counties in the dark zones as well. Virginia was right there in the bad zone alongside the Carolinas. Greensboro, North Carolina was their only city with over 100,000 population in the top ten at number seven, while Virginia scored across the board with Richmond in the second slot with an 11.4% eviction rate, Hampton in third place at 10.5%, Newport News in fourth with 10.2%, Norfolk in sixth with 8.7%, and Chesapeake in the tenth spot with 7.9%.
Add northwestern Alabama counties as well as Mississippi counties south of Memphis, in the Delta, and along the Gulf Coast, and if you’re a lower income tenant you need to leave Dixie behind. Statistics weren’t available, probably because they were either not recorded or not accessible online in Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, but looking at the map in Oklahoma, I’d put money on the fact that they would give the rest of the south a hard run in the terrible eviction rate sweepstakes. Tenants shouldn’t move to the Midwest though either. Michigan is part of the new south in this sense and West Virginia and parts of Indiana and Ohio were ugly as well. Warren, Michigan managed to make the top ten list of evictor cities with an 8.1% rate for the ninth spot.
Everyone knows that these numbers are an undercount. Tenants falling behind often just move. Landlords are able to evict far more tenants without legal action just with a note on the door or a call for the last month’s rent to be paid. In some states the law encourages court evictions because predatory landlords can lard up fees and fines by using the court as their collector. Federal Reserve studies have indicated that eviction rates in corporate properties put Atlanta in the lead with an eviction rate over 22% and Detroit, Memphis, and similar cities relative pikers in corporate evictions at over 8%.
So, the data is now under-girding what organizers find daily on the doors. That’s good news. Whether or not anyone, high or low, is willing to try and do something about supporting lower income families in affordable rental housing either under law or public policy is a longshot though.