Evictions are an awful side of the rental housing business that causes pain for both tenants who need a place to live and landlords who have to run a business.
A book that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond, looks at how mass evictions after the 2008 economic crash were less a consequence than a cause of poverty.
As America faces an affordable housing crisis, there are many sides to the story on what causes evictions besides just poverty. Evictions are not just the terrible landlords fault, but a more complex issue, which ApartmentHeadlines.com explored in an interview with Charles Tassell, Director of Governmental Affairs for the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Apartment Association.
“What everybody in the multifamily world needs to know is, there’s a book that came out called Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. It is based on stories and studies that were done in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This is a sociologist who went and met with individuals and followed them over a couple of years.
Tassell said the book “makes the pitch that landlords make money off evictions. Contrary to what the book says, evictions cost landlords a fortune.”
Evicted ignores key factors like drug use and drug abuse
“One of the things that the book focuses on, is the idea that eviction is actually the cause of poverty, not a result of poverty. It really kind of flips things on its head. It ignores some very key factors like drug use and drug abuse, of the people who are involved,” Tassell said.
“So, if you ignore the fact that I think three out of the four, or four out of the five participants were drug abusers, then yeah eviction is what caused the poverty.
“But if you look at the fact of their behavior, they don’t want to talk about that. So, Evicted, has come out as kind of a focal point for a movement on renters’ rights and the victimization of the individual through a capitalist society,” Tassell said.
Evicted is an agenda for renters’ rights groups
Tassell said what is going on “is a very focused effort by progressive groups and affordable housing activists.
“These activists want to speak out on behalf of these noble poor and increase and ensure their expanded set of rights, including rights to housing. Also, rights to not have to pay their rent for literally months on end – tear up property, abuse it, and be able to walk away and it’s the terrible landlord’s fault,” Tassell said.
Tassell said “there are a number of recommendations that are coming out of the Evicted book” that are the views of a sociologist but do not reflect the landlord point of view. ”Students then read the book, go out and take some limited studies of their area, and say, ‘Here’s the answers you need. They come out of the Evicted book, and here’s how we should move forward.”
Half of evictions in Hamilton County were dismissed before they got to court
“There were 50,000 evictions filed for in Hamilton County, Ohio, in 2017 where 88.2 percent of the landlords had legal representation, but only 2.3 percent of the residents had legal representation. The court requires that any LLC (Limited Liability Company) have legal representation in order to file. Since most landlords own their property in an LLC, that is the reason landlord representation is so high.
“The fact that they ignored was that 25,000 of the evictions were actually dismissed before they even go to court, usually because the person pays,” Tassell said.
No focus on paying rent
“There’s not a focus on paying the rent,” Tassell said.
“It’s an issue of ‘how do we cut back on evictions because these poor people are being victimized.’ But we don’t talk about the fact that they don’t go to a restaurant and not pay.
“They can’t get a house and not pay without a foreclosure coming forward. But somehow property owners are supposed to rent property to someone and not worry about whether or not they actually pay.
“Or if it comes down to getting them out, that the bar is set so high, that police and community leaders want these people out of the community, but the landlord’s hands are so tied that they can’t even do anything to get this person removed from the community. That’s kind of what the eviction issue focuses on,” Tassell said.
The book is a catalyst for activists across the country
“The book was a catalyst for activists to move forward across the country and they are doing so,” Tassell said.
“There are similar studies, and the studies are usually, actually promoted by legal aid societies and fair housing advocates, under the guise of helping these noble poor folks. They completely ignore the fact that there are people who are damaging property and not paying their rent.
“One of the most striking things to me, was the study that came back and immediately said, the two organizations that supported putting this together, didn’t fund it, but they supported putting this study forward, should both get money.
“To me, it’s nothing but a money grab, and you have a study, that is really nothing more than an agenda to reach into the taxpayer’s pockets on behalf of these renters,” Tassell said.
What is the solution to the problem?
With all that said “there is one aspect of real actual, sustainable help that could be provided,” Tassell said.
“There are charitable organizations, for example in Cincinnati, such as the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Apartment Association Apartment Outreach and other organizations to help people who are in a difficult situation.
“For example, we all talk about people who live paycheck to paycheck. They say 50 percent of Americans cannot put their hands on $1,000 in emergency cash if they needed to. If you’re in a situation where you’re living paycheck to paycheck, and there’s a major hiccup, what it results in is that somebody can get behind on their rent.
“Most landlords and property owners recognize that and work with people. There are organizations out there that are charitable, that can also work with them and help and cover the rent. They can say, ‘Okay you had a hiccup. Your car engine blew out on it. Something happened. You lost a couple tires. There was a medical issue, you had to take some time off work. Here’s some ways to cover over that time frame so that you don’t have to lose your housing or have it at risk. This is a way to handle it.’
“That charitable aspect of helping families and helping people who are working paycheck to paycheck and have a hiccup, those people we want to help. That’s people who are doing the right things,” Tassell said.
“It’s pretty well known that there is Welcome House. There’s actually about eight different organizations. Freestore Food Bank has housing counselors and does this as well. What people are starting to realize, especially the attorneys and the fair housing advocates is, there’s more money to be had here, so they are pushing now to get more money brought in to their organizations,” Tassell said.
“What’s amazing is, for example, for every eviction filing, that is done in Hamilton County, Legal Aid Society – and this is true across the state of Ohio – receives 10 percent. This is roughly $15 or $16, on every filing. If there were 50,000 filings last year, and 25,000 of them are dismissed, they still get paid on that 25,000 that were dismissed – even though there’s no legal work they had to do.
“Even on the other 25,000, they look at it and say, ‘Yes.’ They admit that, ‘We do only represent them based on the merit of their case.’ Maybe the reason they’re only covering 2.3 percent of the people with attorneys is because that’s where the merit of the case is. The other people haven’t paid. Evidently they don’t deserve to have representation according to legal aid,” Tassell said.
Evicted book is an agenda
“Across the country associations and organizations have been made aware that this Evicted book is out there” and being used by renters’ rights activists, Tassell said. “It is an agenda and it’s an agenda done through stories.
“You’ve got chronic drug abusers who are losing their housing and somehow we’re supposed to bend over backwards for the chronic drug user,” Tassell said. He pointed out an example in the book where participants are quoted saying ‘Well, I could put some of this money towards rent, but I’d rather just go ahead and spend it.’ “
“How is the taxpayer supposed to be on the hook? How are we supposed to put more regulations in place to protect them when that’s the behavior that we’re seeing?” Tassell asked.
Regulation pushes up the cost of housing
“Everybody recognizes that the more red tape that is put in place, the more regulation that is layered on to an industry, the more expensive it is to provide the services or product of that industry,” Tassell said.
“That is completely true for the housing industry as well. In the Midwest you have some of the lowest housing costs around the country. If you look at areas that have the highest regulations, highest amount of regulations on housing, they have some of the highest cost of housing.
“It’s a simple issue of supply and demand. When you limit the supply the cost is going to go through the roof. What happens is, the more red tape that’s put in place, the fewer people want to participate. Fewer people want to open a building up for rent. Fewer people want to invest capital into rentals. What happens is, there’s a smaller and smaller pool of rental property available, which means that people don’t have a choice. They have less choice and the choices that they have to make are more and more expensive.
“People are not going to put their money at risk in capital when there’s all this red tape and somebody can literally destroy your property and walk away and you have no recourse,” Tassell said.
Tassell was on a Scott Sloan podcast recently on WLW radio. You can hear the podcast here.
About Charles Tassell
Charles Tassell is Director of Governmental Affairs for the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Apartment Association where he monitors legislation at the local, state and national level, and is a member of the Ohio Legislative Committee, The Kentucky Legislative Committee and Ohio and Kentucky Political Action Committees. He is also chief operating officer of the National Real Estate Investors Association.
Book Author Matthew Desmond is the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University and Co-Director of the Justice and Poverty Project. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, he is the author of the award-winning book, On the Fireline, coauthor of two books on race, and editor of a collection of studies on severe deprivation in America. His work has been supported by the Ford, Russell Sage, and National Science Foundations, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune. In 2015, Desmond was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant.