Houston Justice of the Peace Lincoln Goodwin sums up eviction as “If you did not pay, you cannot stay.” For minority communities, specifically the African American and Latinx communities in America, the issue of wealth disparity and systematic racism has incredible impacts on the housing, or lack thereof, that is available. In “the more than 4,500 evictions in the 77090 zip code” in Houston, TX, those evicted are “49 percent black and 30 percent Hispanic.” Eviction and poor housing are commonplace, rather than uncommon. Poor housing also isn’t simply unclean living conditions, but also numerous health code violations. While legal protections exist to keep housing safe, only those on top of their rent are able to take advantage of these; many living in impoverished conditions do not have the luxury of paying their rent every month.
After Hurricane Harvey, tenants were told to pay rent or move out by landlords for unlivable apartments. The City of Houston allows landlords to continue to charge rent if a living area is still partially livable, and so many landlords continued to charge rent and late fees to people whose homes were devastated by flooding. Not only that, but for people who were unable to work during Harvey and thus weren’t paid, rental fees were still required. Those who couldn’t pay were evicted.
Evictions have increased steadily as rent prices soar but pay remains stagnant. In total, the number of eviction cases in Harris County, TX exceeded 68,000 for 2016. According to a MacArthur Foundation “How Housing Matters” study done in 2014 by Matthew Desmond, landlords in Milwaukee, WI evict roughly 16 households per day- and those are only the evictions done legally. Even more people are evicted through what are called “soft evictions”: the renters move out once they fall behind on rent, or landlords pressure, even threaten, tenants to leave without going through the court system.
Applicants to housing programs, especially ones run by the federal government, take years to make it to the top because the housing demand is far too great for the system. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) website even says “since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the limited resources available to HUD and the local housing agencies, long waiting periods are common.” Evictions also significantly limit future housing options, as landlords are far less likely to rent to someone with a previous eviction. It seems strange that programs in place to help people who need housing box out those who have the greatest need for help.
Eviction seeps into nearly every aspect of life, through loss of possessions and constant moving. When people are turned out onto the street or move to a family’s house, they are only able to take the bare minimum of their possessions with them, forcing them to leave the rest on the street. Evicted families are also unlikely to stay in the same area, often moving as they try to find new housing. Children then bounce from school to school, leaving homework and their education by the wayside. Eviction completely disrupts life for those affected by it, and hardens the shell of poverty around the families affected by it. For the poorest renters in America, eviction is a fact of life, a cloud that hangs over their family each month. With little monetary assistance and increasingly higher rents, lower quality housing and higher rates of eviction have become the norm, rather than the exception.
Why should we, as the St. John’s community care? We spend more on school for a year than many of the people that deal with eviction spend in two years on housing. Government agencies focus on trying to stop homelessness or help people once they ARE homeless, instead of trying to confront the root of the problem- eviction. By pushing representatives — local, regional, and national— to commit themselves to creating better housing and improving rental terms, we are able to create a better city. As one of the most privileged groups in the city, we have quite a bit of responsibility to do our part.
The St. John’s community following Hurricane Harvey mobilized to help those of our community move out and begin the first steps of putting their lives back together. What could we accomplish as a community if we put that same energy towards helping those who have been affected by eviction? While we may not be able to use our manpower to the same extent, the links below can give you a forum to let you voice be heard. Write, and let your representatives know that YOU care about evictions, and the way in which it impacts our city.
Below is a link that allows you to input your address and it gives you the representatives for your district within the Texas State government, as well as national representatives: