Greenville New York City added a right to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction. It made a difference with the city’s eviction rate falling from almost 29000 in 2013 to only a bit over 18000 in last year. Nationally, it is likely that more than 2.5 million evictions are filed for tenants annually now, perhaps the numbers are even larger. It didn’t solve anything, but it put a stopper in the problem.
Nothing new there, but here’s a real head scratcher. Two sets of economists, as reported in The Economist, studied the impact of evictions on the poor, one in Chicago and the other in New York City. Their conclusion: the poor were poor before they were evicted, and darned if they aren’t still poor after they were evicted. Their underwhelming conclusion on both cases was essentially that they were a bit poorer, but not all that much. What are we to do with information? Is there anyone anywhere in the world that thought that evictions were a poverty-reduction strategy? This is when you have to wonder what economists do with their time and why?
The group that looked at New York said there was also no spike in payment of increased food stamps or welfare benefits. Read the papers, fellas! It’s almost impossible to get welfare now, no matter where you live, and food stamps are moving that way as well. For welfare, you almost always need a physical address, so remember that when you were study evictions. This group did note that use of hospitalization and homelessness increased dramatically and, being economists, couldn’t sidestep the fact that evictions were triggered by less than $2000 in back rent, but it cost the city $41,000 per homeless person annually.
This is all shuffling paper in a hurricane. When I read that a huge trigger for the Hong Kong demonstrations is the lack of affordable housing and high rents, all I can say, is let’s hit the streets here, too.
One demand that would change all of this is not more lawyers – or more economists for godsakes, but making rental assistance like Section 8 an entitlement rather than an NBA lottery pick. Only 25% of the eligible families actually receive a voucher, leaving 75% in the muck.
Why are the banks and housing industry not lining up with us to demand this? The amount of new construction that would break ground overnight, if all qualified families received rent support, would jump the entire economy several notches.
There’s no comfort in discovering that the poor were only a bit more desperate by degree after an eviction. Affordable and decent housing is in fact a poverty reduction winner. Let’s go all Hong Kong over that!