How Advocates Can Help Prevent Evictions Locally

prevent evictions

Advocates can prevent evictions by educating tenants, addressing harassment, and advocating for policy change. Children under 5 are most vulnerable to eviction, making local action crucial.

Eviction filings are on the rise across the U.S., and it’s putting low-income earning households at risk of becoming homeless.

Over the last 12 months, Princeton University’s Eviction Lab data shows landlords have filed more than 1.1 million evictions in the ten states and 34 cities the lab tracks. The number of eviction filings in cities like Gainsville, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; and Miami, Florida, have all increased by more than 60% relative to their pre-pandemic paces.

These evictions are not impacting everyone equally either.

A recent analysis of eviction data by New America’s Better Life Lab, a nonpartisan policy research organization, shows that children under the age of 5 are the people most likely to experience an eviction in America. Every year, roughly 2.9 million children are threatened with eviction and about 1.5 million children lose their home because of an eviction. These children are oftentimes “invisible” in eviction documents because the cases only name adults and leaseholders, the analysis found.

The risk is even greater for children of color, especially Black children from female-headed households because 51% of all eviction cases are against Black renters, Eviction Lab data shows.

Against this backdrop, it can feel daunting for advocates to try to prevent evictions from occurring locally. But there are multiple ways for advocates to do just that. Experts from the American Bar Association and local legal organizations held a webinar about addressing evictions locally. Here are a few of their suggestions.

Education Is Key to Prevent Evictions

One of the most important keys to slowing the eviction process is educating tenants about how evictions work, tenants’ rights, and the legal remedies available to them, according to Kali Daugherty, a RESULTS expert on poverty who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Evictions are notoriously speedy processes slanted to favor landlords. In some cases, tenants facing eviction don’t participate in the proceedings—either because they don’t know how to, or their life circumstances prevent them from doing so. Courts issue judgments against tenants who don’t participate, which then puts them at risk of becoming homeless. 

A lack of legal representation can compound these issues. Across the country, only about 3% of tenants have access to legal representation in eviction cases compared to the 80% of landlords who bring a lawyer to eviction court.

Daugherty said advocates need to help connect at-risk tenants with local resources to slow this process down or prevent it altogether.

In Milwaukee, there are legal aid clinics and nonprofits designed to help tenants facing eviction. Some offer mediation services that can prevent the case from going to court altogether. Others offer free legal representation for tenants with cases in the court system already. Similar support services exist in cities across the country.

Addressing Harassment and ‘Informal’ Evictions

Even though there is a robust legal process for evictions, many still happen informally. The most common way this happens is when a landlord harasses a tenant until they vacate a property.

Last year, Invisible People reported on the big business of “tenant relocation” in Los Angeles that one property management firm used to harass tenants until they left their rental units. Tenants reported loud construction projects taking place after they rejected their landlord’s offer to buy out the rest of their lease. Other tenants reported their landlord for calling immigration officials on them after rejecting a similar offer.

Deepika Sharma, an associate law professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, said that harassment is one of the two biggest reasons why tenants face informal evictions.

To address this issue, advocates should make lists of issues tenants face with specific landlords. These lists can help identify broader issues in the legal or policy landscapes that need to be addressed to prevent informal evictions in the future.

Advocate for Policy Change

Outside of the landlord-tenant relationship, advocates can also help prevent evictions by pushing for local policy changes that give renters more rights and protections during eviction proceedings.

One policy that advocates should push local leaders to adopt is the right to counsel. Eviction proceedings are civil cases, not criminal ones, meaning there are no constitutional requirements for a lawyer to represent either party. Cities like Denver, Los Angeles, and Atlanta have all passed laws that now guarantee tenants a right to counsel during eviction proceedings.

Another policy change that advocates should support is extending eviction notice timelines to 30 days or more. Often, eviction notices give tenants as few as 72 hours to move out, which can make it difficult for low-income households to find new housing options. This can be especially pertinent in cities with a low supply of rental units.

How You Can Help

The pandemic proved that we need to rethink housing in the United States. It also showed that providing additional support and protections for renters is a clear-cut way to reduce future increases in homelessness.

That’s why we need you to contact your officials and representatives. Tell them you support keeping many of the pandemic-related aid programs in place for future use. They have proven effective at keeping people housed, which is the first step to ending homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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