Fighting against eviction

— by Lael Robertson, Staff Attorney for Housing Justice Center

“Residential stability begets a kind of psychological stability, which allows people to invest in their home and social relationships.  It begets school stability, which increases the chances that children will excel and graduate.  And it begets community stability, which encourages neighbors to form strong bonds and take care of their block.  But poor families enjoy little of that because they are evicted at such high rates.  Instability is not inherent to poverty. . . Poor families move so much because they are forced to.”  Evicted, pg. 296

In my time as a legal aid attorney and in my current role at Housing Justice Center, I heard the stories of struggle told in “Evicted” over and over again—people barely scraping by, longing for stability, looking for a place to call home. Natalie had a landlord decide he didn’t want someone with a domestic violence history, so her lease was terminated; Maria’s building was bought and the rent was increased by 30%; when William’s building got new management, he couldn’t qualify under the new tenant standards, even though he had been paying rent for 10 years. Because those who rent, and particularly those who rent unsubsidized apartments, are at the mercy of outside forces—the landlord, the market, a desire for financial gain—they are one business decision away from being uprooted.

In 2015, the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area had 28%, or over 320,000, cost burdened households, meaning those households were paying more than 30% of their income for rent, according to Minnesota Compass. Perhaps more startling, more than 78% of households earning less than $35,000 a year are cost burdened. Those who can least afford it are paying the most for housing.

At the same time, the vacancy rate in the metro is incredibly low and rents are increasing. The ability of low-income households to find affordable apartments is difficult; holding on to them can be close to impossible. According to a report by the Minneapolis Innovation Team, two months and less than $2,000 stands between tenants and eviction. Nonpayment cases accounted for 93% of eviction filings, most of which had no other reasons identified.¹

So what can we do?

We can advocate for our local officials to recognize the problem and take action. Several cities around the metro are considering policies like just cause eviction, protections for Section 8 voucher holders, and required notice to the city of unsubsidized apartment buildings that are going up for sale. But we can also educate our communities on who needs affordable housing—people who work, people with disabilities, people you know. They are teacher’s aides, grocery store clerks, fast food managers. They go to your church, they work at your coffee shop, and their child is your child’s best friend. And right now, they need their community to step up and help make change.

¹ Evictions in Minneapolis, Minneapolis Innovation Team 2016.

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Lael Robertson is a staff attorney at Housing Justice Center. Ms. Robertson focuses her work on enforcing fair housing laws on behalf of low income and on advocating for fair housing policy throughout the region.

4 thoughts on “Fighting against eviction”

  1. Bookclub discussion questions (answer one or all three questions in the comments):
    1. What are some of the misconceptions about those who have been evicted? What can we do to better educate people on the complex barriers that cause evictions?
    2. What has your experience been trying to find a reasonably priced home in the Twin Cities’ tight rental market?
    3. How does having a home affect other areas in one’s life, such as work, education and relationships?

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  2. Have worked w/ homeless for 11 years – half @ Catholic Charities & half as volunteer advocate @ Dignity Center. Have been to housing court many times w/ my clients. Number one concern: Defendants w/ brain injury, mental illness or chemical dependency issues who can’t adequately represent themselves in court or even to show up on time – even people on Social Security Disability. These people absolutely require advocacy to represent themselves in court.

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  3. I’m glad this conversation is still taking place and that I’m a part of it, as featured in the first blog. I wasn’t going to say anything else, but I needed to elaborate, in the respect of what Bill said.

    The “one and only” UD that I ever got, 9 years ago was not what led me to Aeon. The large for profit property owner and management company really did NOT want to have to evict me, in one of my previous residences, that I had resided for 4 1/2 years with no problem (a total of over 7 by the time I was evicted) I was a great a tenant who paid their rent on time and a considerate neighbor who helped others, before I ended up in medical and mental health crisis, as a single mom, the last 2 years I lived in that property.

    But when in medical and mental health crisis that did NOT get better, is when I became a vulnerable adult, what makes this worse is that I was a vulnerable adult with a vulnerable young child, as well as having also a teenager who saw his mother disintegrate, but because I had to wait and fight for SSDI for so long, as I got sicker, and a lack of resources, is what caused my eviction, which my property manager felt bad but had no choice to do, given my unique circumstances.

    Had I been diagnosed earlier with my mental health issues and not had the medical crisies, and didn’t have to wait so long to get SSDI, I would’ve had resources at my disposal like I do now and for the last 7 years, with my disability waiver, I’d probably be in my previous apartment, raising my youngest who’s now a teen. My oldest is now an adult, approaching his mid 20’s.

    The reason why I’m glad that Bill said something, in addition to this particular blog, is sometimes it’s not bad landlords that lead to eviction, although in my case in my previous residence before I found Aeon, that was the case, but I was put in a vulnerable situation because no one thought of, even though I had some services prior to 2008, it was NOT nearly enough, nor did anyone think to press for an expedited hearing for SSDI for me, to prevent myself and my children having to go through what we did.

    To make sense of what happened to us, is why I blog and am an “armchair activist” of sorts. To remove stigma about mental health, homelessness and being a body diversity activist.

    While Aeon is amazing to provide housing and resources to keep people and/or families in their housing, with some properties that are designated for the disabled, there is NOT enough resources for someone who was in my circumstances, in their late 30’s of when I got diagnosed with mental health issues, as well as being in medical crisis, so I talk about it, and help others so they and their families don’t fall through the cracks, like we did.

    Or such in my case, where having a UD, left me vulnerable to substandard housing, just like it does for so many families.

    So I will keep talking about this topic, privately, as well in junction with Aeon, in hopes that both locally and nationally, families can find the resources and support they might need, until they become eligible and sometimes it’s a fight of epic proportions for that and it shouldn’t be.

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