Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

City’s Evictions Far From Worst

New data on evictions shows a huge national problem with lessons for Milwaukee.

By - Apr 11th, 2018 12:03 pm
Notice of Eviction

Notice of Eviction

Harvard Professor Matthew Desmond’s book, “Evicted,” an eye-opening book documenting the plague of urban evictions, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and was cited by Bill Gates and former President Barack Obama as one of the best books they read that year.

The book also made Milwaukee, once again, a national poster child for the many miseries associated with urban poverty. Desmond’s book was centered in Milwaukee and found that one of 25 renters in Milwaukee was evicted each year and one in 14 in majority black neighborhoods.

But a follow-up project by Desmond and his team of researchers at Princeton University, where he is now a professor, has been mining local court records across the country to build a database of millions of evictions. And the results suggest there are many cities with even bigger problems than Milwaukee.

No city was worse than North Charleston, South Carolina, where one of six renters (16.5 percent) were evicted on an annual basis. Second was Richmond, Virginia, where one of nine (11.4 percent) of renters were evicted per year. Desmond’s data ranks the Top Evicting Large Cities, and nine of them were in the south, and five were in Virginia. Milwaukee ranks 60th on the list, which is no badge of honor, but shows it is far from the worst.

On a state-wide basis, Desmond’s data shows, no place has more evictions than South Carolina, where 8.9 percent of all renters are evicted annually. Virginia was second, with 5.12 percent and Delaware was right behind, at 5.1 percent.

Indeed, there seems to be a kind of Evictions Belt in America, from Delaware south through Maryland (3.56 percent), Virginia, North Carolina (4.61 percent), South Carolina and Georgia (4.71 percent), where the evictions rate is more concentrated than anywhere else in the nation.

Compared to South Carolina’s shocking 8.9 percent evicted annually, Wisconsin is at 1.89 percent, and compared to North Charleston’s astounding 16.5 percent eviction rate, Milwaukee is at 4.25 percent. But that rises to more than 7 percent in this city’s majority black neighborhoods, Desmond’s book found.

And Desmond’s calculations “are probably conservative,” a New York Times story notes. “They include only households that touched the legal process, not those in which people moved with an informal warning. The data undercount places where eviction records can be sealed or are harder to collect.”

Clearly this is a problem associated with poverty, where small shortfalls can have big consequences. “In Richmond, the median amount owed (by renters evicted) was $686,” the Times story noted, “and that small amount can upend a family’s life.”

In his book, Desmond found that median rent nationwide had increased more than 70 percent, after adjusting for inflation, since the late 1990s. In Milwaukee, he found the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment rose from $585 in 1997 to $795 in 2004, while monthly welfare payments did not rise at all, and minimum wage increases did not keep pace with inflation.

The standard rule of thumb for affordable housing is you shouldn’t spend more than 30 percent of your income on the rent or mortgage payment. But Desmond found poor tenants in Milwaukee spending as much as 88 percent of their income on housing. “The average cost of rent, even in high-poverty neighborhoods, is quickly approaching the total income of welfare recipients,” Desmond has written. “The high cost of housing is consigning the urban poor to financial ruin.”

Nor is there much government subsidized housing available. “A common misconception is that most poor people receive government subsidies when, in fact, only 6 percent of this population are given public assistance and live in Section 8 housing,” one analysis noted.

Which makes evictions more likely. And just one eviction can have powerful ripple effects. As families lose their homes, “The Richmond public school system reroutes buses to follow children from apartments to homeless shelters to pay-by-the-week motels,” the Times story notes. “City social workers coach residents on how to fill out job applications when they have no answer for the address line. Families lose their food stamps and Medicaid benefits when they lose the permanent addresses where renewal notices are sent.”

And once you’re evicted it becomes difficult to ever find decent housing again, because landlords are less likely to rent to someone with a record of having been evicted. “An eviction isn’t one problem,” Amy Woolard of Richmond’s Legal Aid Justice Center, told the Times. “It’s like 12 problems.”

Or as Desmond has put it, “without stable housing, everything else in a person’s life falls apart.”

But while poverty and the rising cost of housing are driving the problem of evictions, Desmond’s data suggests that certain states have bigger problems. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s reaction to the new data was to tweet that “this is not a Richmond problem alone. It’s a Virginia problem. City and state leaders need to be just as intentional about the fix as our predecessors were about creating this misery.”

States like Virginia have a very low minimum wage, which makes it harder to earn enough to afford rent, and weak tenant rights laws, which makes it easier for landlords to evict tenants. “This is a state, Mr. Stoney and others say, that favors property owners, as it has since plantation days,” the Times reported.

Desmond’s ranking of large cities with evictions shows Indiana has three cities among the worst 20, and Ohio has six cities ranked from 24th (Akron) to 53rd (Cleveland). Statewide policies may help explain this.

Under the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators, Wisconsin is becoming more like such states. While 29 states have raised their minimum wage, Wisconsin’s leaders have resisted. And they have reduced tenant rights and given landlords more power. The result is likely to be an increase in evictions.

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14 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: City’s Evictions Far From Worst”

  1. frank schneiger says:

    It is worth putting this problem – if you see it as a problem – into a historic context. As southern based race-driven reactionary politics became a national force and found a permanent home in the Republican Party, a couple of core beliefs took root. The first was “otherization,” based on the belief that “the American people,” i.e., the “real Americans,” were white, well-off, suburban Christian conservatives. Everyone else was an “other,” not worthy of consideration as part of the American family, and certainly not entitled to a share of the nation’s largesse.

    Closely related to the theme of “otherization,” was that of victimization, the belief that “the American people,” hard-working, taxpaying white people were being played for suckers by leeches who were on welfare, food stamps, rent subsidies and other forms of public assistance. All supported by their champions, the hated “liberals.” As self-defined victims of these parasitic groups, all empathy went out the window. In recent years, again for purely political reasons, certain segments, “the white working class,” “coal miners,” etc. became a focus of empathy, conveniently ignoring the fact that there was a huge non-white, displaced working class. Also ignored was that these victim groups rarely showed any reciprocal empathy for others who were suffering, but who didn’t look like them. In this context, if “they” are being evicted, there must be a good reason, and please don’t ask me to pay to help them.

    Finally, in a corporate plutocracy like Wisconsin’s, those who count don’t care what happens to “these people.” And it’s always easy for people like Walker, Trump and their acolytes to give those who are down a good kick on behalf of “the base.” Even when it requires blatant lies, as it often does. As for example, when Trump recently said that “welfare” was “out of control.” Since “welfare” hasn’t existed for 20 years since that great reformer Bill Clinton got rid of it, it kind of reminds you of the Irish film “The Commitments, in which Jimmy, the founder of a disbanded rock band gets a postcard from the band’s congenitally lying trumpeter Joey. Joey informs him that he is dong great, on a World Tour with Joe Tex. Jimmy thinks “wow, that’s really impressive,” except for the fact that Joe Tex had been dead for ten years. But, for the base, non-existent welfare and the rest are all out of control, or else, where are all of their hard-earned tax dollars going? And, as George Constanza said, “It’s not a lie if I believe it.” Joe Tex lives.

  2. Eric J says:

    I have worked with low income families for many years. For what ever reason, Milwaukee county evictions legal numbers are flat.

    For as long as I can remember, small claims court in Milwaukee county issues about 12-14 thousands writs of eviction each year. The sheriff conducts about 3-4 thousand move outs a year.

    New to the Milwaukee area are laws that allow the landlord to dispose of tenants property without it being moved into storage; and the state computer c-cap system that really alters the playing field in favor of landlords wanting a quick history of tenant eviction (and other) records. This results in many tenants just leaving a property when there is a dispute, even if the tenant is in the right, because any eviction record on c-cap, regardless of the outcome, is the kiss of death for anyone looking for a new rental unit for about half a decade or more.

    I’m not sure what to make of the legal numbers of evictions, other than some people find a way to cope and others get stuck.

    The biggest improvement for tenants are court officials that are willing to listen to a tenants position,where in past years, that was not the case

  3. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Solve evictions by educating people and getting them jobs, something that the Left is incapable of doing. They want to pass all kinds of horrible laws that drive property owners out of city leaving the crooks behind.
    As one who owned property in Milwaukee for years and got tired of dealing with nutty Lefties in govt., I moved out to West Allis ands elsewhere, where the leaders, businesses were better to work with.
    If Milwaukee cannot educate the kids, even teach them to read and get them jobs, you cannot afford anything.
    Naturally the 50,000 or so that Foxconn will bring in the next ten years, the Left is opposed to you will continue to be amongst one of the top ten worst run cities int he country with the highest poverty rates. Simple if you have any brains.

  4. Terry says:

    @WCD, the most successful, well
    educated, economically thriving, innovative cities in America are run by progressives! My hometown of Seattle is an economic powerhouse and is a vibrant, dynamic thriving place and the city and entire state are run entirely by “leftists”and have been for a long time. Have you ever considered that perhaps it is yourself, that is the problem? You are the common factor in all of your complaints afterall. Think about it. Maybe it is you that is the problem? You and other angry, bitter wrinkly old republican white guys. Free your mind man! Food for thought.

    Dump Walker

  5. Lawren Griffin says:

    Evictions ruins lives, landlords retaliates on tenants when they refuse to do repairs and tenants refuse to pay rent. It is hard to find a good place with just a filed eviction on your name and these landlords know this and will file just to have it on your records. The courts don’t work with you they believe the landlords even if you have proof you still lose and leave feeling hey the courts must be in the pockets of some landlords. It is very sad that a lot of great honest people’s lives have been ruined due to a bogus eviction.

  6. Andy Umbo says:

    I currently live in Indianapolis, moving back to Milwaukee by the end of the month. Indiana is notorious for zero consumer protection laws (WCD would be proud), and the first thing people notice when they move here is how it plays out in rentals! I’ve been here 4 years, and had to move out of my first apartment complex because they raised my rent from 575.00 to 850.00 in 2 years (after I moved out, they dropped it to 650 to get someone new in). In addition, they charged me for water (totally made up fee, 50 bucks for a single man, not metered), and trash removal (25 bucks, and I had to walk it to one overflowing dumpster in the whole facility, usually placing it on the ground outside of it). After two years of living here,l I finally found a place with rentals more like I was used to in Milwaukee and Chicago; a small place that was run by a family that had built it and owned it for 40+ years.

    The first place I lived, was owned by a place on the east coast, who had built it and owned it, and people on limited incomes had lived there for years. They sold it to some local criminals from Carmel Indiana, who were responsible for the high bumps in lease fees every lease period, and there was a vast exodus of retirees who had not expected to move, being thrust out of the place and into the market.

    The rental situation is so nefarious, it’s common knowledge. I managed a staff of 21, and everyone who did not own a house, was moving at least every two years because rent would go up too much, they were virtually living out of totes. This does not bode well for establishing neighborhoods, and having lived for years in Chicago (where people can spend their whole lives renting), it was not a “metropolitan” mind-set of landlords; who always try and keep good renters in! It was another just another example of screwed up topsy-turvey thinking by the Indianapolis development class (read “republican zealots)! The government here was using sparse resources to give tax breaks to developers building 1800-2000 a month apartments for the sub-30’s that just got a job at Eli Lilly (in which they now have a glut), and what the area needs is safe, reasonable efficiency apartments.

    BTW, aren’t we just done listening to the guy from Wisconsin Conservative Digest? I’ve been reading this site for at least 4 years, and that guy, who ever he is, is just so loaded with inaccurate information and garbage, that he would have been banned from most other sites years ago. It leads me to believe that Bruce has him on here to stir up trouble and create posts. I’ve actually read the guy say two opposite things within three posts of each other! While I was living in DC, even the Republican aides I knew would openly admit that they knew the majority of things on talk radio and Fox news were inaccurate crap, but if it made people vote for them, so much the better!

    Cum’on Bruce, fess up. This moron would not be on another site this long, with this level of inaccuracy and ideology at the expense of intelligent interaction; unless he was an alter-ego of you trying to stir up posts and controversy!

  7. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    What is bogus eviction? No one evicts good tenants. Only if they wreck the place, do drugs, bother other tenants or not pay rent. Suggest everyone buy some Milwaukee property and get rich.

  8. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    As for accuracy. I have been writing here for years, started in 1967 in Post newspapers and many others. Have written, thousands of articles. Have never been challenged successfully by anyone with a brain, on a column.

  9. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    We do not own any property in Milwaukee cty. anymore for many reasons. No one mentions the Factory Freddies that bought duplexes, 4 families with which they can retire.
    Milwaukee is full of them. When they get tenants, many of them that wreck their properties to the tune of thousands of dollars have to spend $1000 to evict, not pay rent for months. No one cares about these hard working people. Half of Milwaukee is like that, not big landlords. When they get tenants like that they suffer.

  10. mkwagner says:

    WCD you are mistaken. Good tenants get evicted all the time to make room for family members who are need. Landlords do not have to prove the tenant was bad. There is also nothing that requires landlords to work with tenants who have run into sudden, unexpected hardship such as a major medical crisis. The world is not so black and white. What cities like Seattle disocvered long ago is, that working with people who are struggling is good for everyone.

  11. S my says:

    In order to generate the supplemental Revenue that can be used to fund an eviction pool to mitigate evictions based on non-payment an anti rental eviction pool can be funded with the income generated from sales and production activities through marketing activities the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution would prohibit this person from establishing this pool without being properly paid

  12. Terry says:

    Wississippi Cuckservative Indigestion, You have on fact, not only lost every argument on this site, you have looked like the biggest, stupidest idiot ever while doing it. Sorry, your days of bitterness, blaming others for all your failings in life, anger, hate, racism, misogyny and resentment are over! Sorry, republicans, you are TOXIC and you LOSE.

    Dump Walker 2018!
    Dump ALL republicans 2018!

  13. Lawren Griffin says:

    A bogus eviction is when a slum lord files an eviction because tenant calls the inspector because landlords refuse to respond to the needs of his or her house and when tenants take the proper procedures or move out even with a notice the landlord out of revenge files an eviction knowing that it will ruin a tenants life.

  14. Andy Umbo says:

    BTW, Terry has it correct, many of the most vital cities in the U.S. are “blue”. As I stated above, I moved to Indiana for a job a few years ago, moving back to Wisconsin this month. Indiana is a red-state playground, and the source of admiration for Scott Walker. He wants to make Wisconsin more like Indiana! BEWARE!

    Indiana is really under 50 years of republicans “demonizing” metropolitanism as socialism. It is truly the “third world” in the U.S., all because of the republicans “small government” ideas, which you can tell from living here, do NOT work.

    No viable mass trans, cost of living up 60%, salaries up 9% in the last decade, Indiana bottom of the quality of life study, highest teen suicides, last in long term support for seniors, hate crimes up with no hate crime laws, hospital costs shockingly high, Indiana one of ten least diverse states, poverty rate doubled since 2000, violent crime up 7% outpacing most other places in the country, worst water quality, and Indianapolis number 1 in toxic releases. It goes on and on, based on republican agendas.

    I reiterate when I say it’s becoming tedious even reading WCD’s inaccurate posts and ideological garbage. Can’t we get him off of here for someone that at least has a brain and a defensible position? Unless it really is Bruce!

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