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The Spiraling Effects of Being Evicted

How quickly the rental market changes. Wall Street investors are becoming landlords at an unprecedented scale. Homeownership has dipped to around the lowest level since 1995, and half of renters now pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. With so much changing in the life of renters, it’s a good to read a new profile in Harvard Magazine about sociologist Matthew Desmond, an assistant professor who’s spent years researching the impact of evictions.

Desmond has focused his research in Milwaukee, where he compiled a comprehensive study of evictions and found that at least one in 14 renters were formally evicted each year in the city’s majority-black neighborhoods. But that eviction rate jumps to one in eight when he took into account the less formal means that landlords use to boot tenants, such as negotiating an exit or making conditions inhospitable. “The ratio rises to one in seven for black renters, and fully one in four for Hispanic renters,” Elizabeth Gudrais writes in the story. Desmond also found women were more likely to be evicted because they earn less than men and generally rent larger, and therefore more expensive, spaces to accommodate children.

Eviction can, Desmond is finding, set off a cascade of problems, “including depression and subsequent job loss, material hardship, and future residential instability.” People end up in shelters or other substandard living situations. Families don’t provide the support network evicted tenants need, and there’s not nearly enough housing assistance to go around.

Desmond offers up a few ways to help renters, such as offering free legal aid, because he found many don’t know their rights while their landlords are typically lawyered up. He also proposes one-time grants to help families through the temporary hardships that can cause people to miss paying rent. These are hardly solutions on a grand scale and do little to address the systemic problem created by low incomes and rising housing costs, but they can ease the spiraling problems evictions cause.


Weise is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @kyweise.

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