Tag Archives: affordable housing

The Dollars Driving Landlords to Evict Aren’t Big Time

Little Rock      The landlord ideology about tenants is based on a narrative mythology that whenever they evict, it is because their tenants are deadbeats and scofflaws.  Landlords having powerful local and national organizations and a much louder voice than their tenants have been selling this swill for centuries.  Researchers are now digging deeper into the real facts, not the “alternative” facts, and finding that a significant number of evictions are, in their view, based on relatively paltry sums.

A story in the New York Times recently highlighted the fact that there are a significant number of families that are evicted for sums that are less than $600.  Note that that’s $600 all-in, including rent owed, late fees, court costs, etc., much of which is larded onto the rent owed, meaning that the actual rent that led to this crisis, potentially making a family homeless, was way, way less.

Before we get much deeper into this eviction situation, let’s note that this is about as far from a surprise as knowing that dawn comes the day after dusk.  When the Federal Reserve banking survey in May 2019 widely reported finding that 40% of Americans did not have $400 in cash or credit to deal with any financial emergency, whether health, transportation, or whatever, it was obvious that at least that number would potentially face eviction if they were facing a $600 notice from their landlord and his gang.

The Times notes that in Virginia 23% of eviction judgements were less than $600, in North Carolina 32% of the judgements were for sums that low, Delaware 20%, and Rhode Island at 8% were also in that range.  The median money judgement was higher, about $1200, inclusive.

This is the tip of the iceberg.  The data underlying these numbers comes from Lexis/Nexus as verified by the Princeton Eviction Lab, which notoriously undercounts the number of real evictions because the figures are drawn from legal proceedings.  Matthew Desmond, the head of the Eviction Lab, acknowledged this flatly in his widely read book and award-winning book, Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in America.  The vast majority of evictions never end up in court filings and certainly not in actual judgments.  Suffice it to say, the numbers of de facto, rather than de jure, evictions are much, much higher.

If a family doesn’t have $400, then $600 is a higher mountain.  It may look like peanuts, through the window from the outside, but looking at that figure from the family’s viewpoint, it might as well be millions.  Some legislators are proposing an emergency rent fund.  Others seem to think that talk, rather than money, will solve this problem, and have proposed more mediation between landlords and tenants.  The experts acknowledge that the problem is structural, but are trying to carve out at least a Band-Aid solution to deal with this gaping wound.

The problem is bigger than this of course.  The Times notes that “between 1990 and 2017, the national stock of rental housing grew by 10.9 million units…Over the same time, the number of units renting for less than $600 a month in inflation-adjusted dollars fell by 4 million.   All net growth in rent housing in America, in other words, has been for higher-income tenants.”

The solution here is higher wages, a better welfare system, and a real national housing policy for low-and-moderate income families, but the policy proposals tend to skew towards throwing pennies at the wall, rather than putting dollars in peoples’ pockets and roofs over their heads.  The proposals are packaged to save public authorities money by preventing the higher costs of shelters and homelessness.  They might sell this to some, but families facing evictions won’t buy it, and neither should we settle there.

ACORN Canada staff at YEYB in Quebec City!

Consolidating the Fight Against Housing Displacement in Canada

Quebec City    After a day of training and reports, the ACORN Canada organizing staff really got serious when the Year End / Year Begin meeting began no holds barred wrestling with campaigns.  The discussion was particularly intense around the dual crises of affordable housing, beyond the reach of many members, especially in the urban centers, and displacement of these same tenant families in these red-hot markets that have been well publicized in Toronto and Vancouver, but are equally problematic in Ottawa, Hamilton and other cities.

The platform for the discussion was the breakthrough victories in the western cities of Burnaby and New Westminster, abutting Vancouver.  As Vancouver has become increasingly unaffordable and the playground of the rich and foreign investors pushing prices past seven figures, pressure on prices and housing stock has led to speculation and displacement that we have termed “demovictions,” when tenants are evicted so that landlords and developers can demolish these three-story, ten apartment units to erect huge, towering apartment and condo towers.  In previous years’ meetings, the decade long campaign that had finally succeeded in winning landlord licensing and inspections with real penalties in Toronto had been the centerpiece topic.  ACORN groups in Ottawa and Hamilton had carried that campaign forward in those cities.  Now the debate centered on how to nationalize the victories in the west across Canada.

The victory in Burnaby had been long in coming as well, but was sweeping.  ACORN’s campaign and leaders had moved the city council to pass arguably the strongest tenant protections around displacement in North America.  When a qualifying building is scheduled for demolition and redevelopment under the new bylaw, the displaced tenants would be given a monthly rent top-off from the time they are moved out of their old unit, until they are moved back into the unit.  The rent supplement would be the area median rent plus 30%.  In 2019, that calculated to $1820 for a two-bedroom or $1545 for a one-bedroom, assuring the tenant of being able to successfully find alternative housing.  The real kicker is that once the redevelopment is completed, the tenant has the right to return to her old apartment at the same rent as when they left, coupling the scourge of displacement with what is effectively rent control.

This is great public policy.  The city doesn’t lose any affordable housing nor are tenants permanently displaced, even tough temporarily inconvenienced, the city gains more housing units, and despite all of their whining the developers make their money back and more from the new apartments they are adding.

Will it still lead to gentrification?  Yes, to some degree, since the new units, either rented or sold, will undoubtedly absorb the costs of the relocation and the retained affordable units.  Rents on those units will rise with inflation a couple of points per year, but low-and-moderate income families trying to move to Burnaby will be forced farther out to find affordable housing.  The only solution for that problem is the one that cities, provincial and national governments in Canada and around the world are still avoiding:  building more public housing.  The national housing policy envisions a rent subsidy for 300,000 families of up to $2500 per year, but that’s another story.

Nonetheless, ACORN Canada is clear.  This is what works.  Time to make the demands nationally, city to city, province to province.  These victories are benchmarks, so the stalling and excuses from city staffers and electeds won’t wash anymore.  There is a program that is winning, and a plan to make it work everywhere.