In a highly-anticipated community event in Charlotte, author and Princeton professor Matthew Desmond discussed his Pulitzer-winning book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City before a crowd of 700 on September 27th. Nine community groups sponsored the Desmond discussion, including ULI Charlotte and the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association. With community discussion and research ongoing around the problem of a lack of economic mobility in Charlotte, the September 27 public lecture by Desmond drew such demand that the free public tickets were snapped up in less than 24 hours. Some 40 book clubs met and discussed the book in Charlotte in the weeks prior to the presentation.
Desmond’s best-selling book explores eviction as both a symptom and a cause of poverty. It stemmed from years of carefully gathered data and ethnographic research in two low-income Milwaukee neighborhoods, and tells the stories of eight families living on the edge, and two landlords who interact with them.
Desmond’s talk in Charlotte reflected his research and the passages of his book. He spoke about the disproportionate impact of evictions on poor Black women and that that the interruption of eviction causes job loss for households paying 60, 70, 80 percent of income for rent (Eviction can break a tenuous tie to a job because of its impact on transportation to work). A highlight of Desmond’s remarks was his finding that only 25% of households who are eligible for housing subsidy receive it, because of a chronic underfunding of subsidy programs. He called for much more public money to be devoted to voucher programs. “No other advanced society has the level of poverty we have,” said Desmond, adding his initial goal was to research evictions and evaluate them in the context of poverty.
In 2008, homeowner tax benefits exceeded $171 billion in the USA. It would cost about $22 billion annually to fund housing vouchers for everyone living below the poverty line, Desmond said. “Poverty persists in America not because of a lack of resources,” he said. “Public policy should be mindful of that.”
A panel discussion following Desmond’s talk featured local speakers who spoke about evictions and homelessness in Charlotte.
Scott Wilkerson, chief investment officer at Gingko Residential, said his firm focuses on workforce housing, which provides housing for those earning between 60% and 80% of the area median income. Gingko’s units have an average rent of $827.
“If our residents don’t pay our rent, it’s the landlord that doesn’t get paid that month,” he said. “The city still wants taxes, we’ve got to pay insurance, payroll — a simple fast eviction in North Carolina and Charlotte takes about two months. The landlord then loses about two months’ rent.” Other panelists were from Legal Aid – covering the eviction court processes and lack of counsel for lessees, and from the Salvation Army – who cited widespread reluctance of landlords to accept households with evictions, including those with portable vouchers.
The Charlotte community is now processing the implications of Desmond’s talk. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte has authored two related in-depth pieces (with a third one expected shortly) about the process and implications of evictions, including this one: http://plancharlotte.org/story/evictions-charlotte-mecklenburg-nc-housing-homelessness. “Evictions are connected to housing instability and homelessness” the University concludes. One clear result of the Desmond talk is a call for better lessee education on legal rights & responsibilities through a partnership between Legal Aid and Crisis Assistance Ministry, a local group that staves off thousands of evictions and utility disconnections each year. They are actively seeking volunteer housing counselors. Other strategies include decreasing the impact of evictions on lessees, better case management, and affordable housing/better income opportunities.
As a result of “Evicted” there are a host of policy implications and potential proposals that might arise and have a bearing on the local apartment industry. For example:
- A proposal to expunge Eviction filings from a lessee’s record if the process did not proceed to a Writ of Possession (Advantage: would make life easier for such housing consumers in the rental market, akin to the “an arrest is not a conviction” argument. Disadvantage: a number of our members like to use Eviction filings as part of their applicant screening process).
- Some advocates for the poor may want to examine North Carolina Landlord-Tenant Law Statutes and the various notice requirements that collectively lead to the cumulative Eviction Processing Time (40 years in the making), with an eye toward stretching this time. Undoubtedly, our Associations would oppose this, as our members want and need to recover their assets for both business and housing affordability reasons.
- There could very easily be a debate about to what extent should prior Evictions be a reasonable or even legal business basis for denying prospects . We ought to be prepared for this debate/discussion of business interests vs. the public interest.
Recap provided by Ken Szymanski, AICP, Executive Director, Greater Charlotte Apartment Association