On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the District enacted an emergency order that put a halt to evictions. However, according to a report from Georgetown University, some landlords are using eviction notices to pressure tenants to pay rent. The report finds that once a tenant is given an eviction notice, a cycle of eviction and housing instability ensues.
And many fear that without any federal relief, the entire region may enter a housing crisis once the moratorium is lifted. Some experts believe that this crisis has already begun in the District.
How is the pandemic changing the housing market? And what can be done to stave off waves of poverty and homelessness?
This segment is part of our 2020 contribution to the DC Homeless Crisis Reporting Project in collaboration with other local newsrooms. The collective works will be published throughout the day at DCHomelessCrisis.press.
Produced by Richard Cunningham
- Ally Schweitzer Business and Development Reporter, The Affordability Desk, WAMU 88.5; @allyschweitzer
- Eva Rosen Assistant Professor; Georgetown University's School of Public Policy
KOJO NNAMDIAcross the region, people struggling to pay rent have been protected from eviction temporarily. That includes the District, where an emergency moratorium on evictions is in place through the end of the year, but not all landlords are complying. And a recent report reveals some are illegally threatening tenants with eviction, or even moving forward with evictions.
KOJO NNAMDIEvictions are a major driver of homelessness and housing insecurity in this region. We're looking at this issue today as part of the D.C. Homeless Crisis Reporting Project, a collaboration with newsrooms in this region. Joining us now is the one and only Ally Schweitzer, who is a reporter with WAMU's affordability desk. Ally, thank you so much for joining us.
ALLY SCHWEITZERWow, what an intro. Great to be here. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlly, last week, Mayor Bowser extended the District's emergency order until December 31st. What does this mean for tenants?
SCHWEITZERIt means they're protected a little longer from being legally evicted. So, you know, the courts aren't allowing any evictions to be executed in D.C. as long as the emergency remains in effect. Landlords also can't file new eviction cases until 60 days after the emergency ends. So, the emergency extension, it gives tenants facing evictions some additional, temporary relief.
NNAMDIThe D.C. council also passed temporary legislation on evictions. What was in that legislation and how is it different than the emergency order from the mayor that we just talked about?
SCHWEITZERYeah, so in addition to just the ban -- which is very comprehensive, by the way -- I mean, tenants cannot be legally evicted for any reason right now in D.C. But, on top of that, the council also banned landlords from filing new eviction cases. So, they can't even begin the eviction process during the health emergency. They also can't send eviction notices. And landlords are now required – temporarily, anyway -- to provide photographic evidence that a tenant was served notice of an eviction hearing before their case can proceed.
SCHWEITZERAnd just a little bit of background, quickly, that was in response to an investigation that DCist published that found that the people who were hired to deliver these notices, in some cases, were not actually getting the notice to people. So, folks were finding out their landlord was evicting them after their hearing had already taken place.
SCHWEITZERI'm not clear on how much of a difference that legislation makes during the emergency, because evictions can't be taking place now, anyway. But that legislation could become permanent. So, long story short, D.C. has quite strong incomprehensive protections against eviction right now. And they're certainly much stronger than you'll find in Virginia or Maryland.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Eva Rosen, who is an assistant professor at Georgetown University School of Public Policy. Eva Rosen, thank you for joining us.
EVA ROSENThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIYou co-wrote a report on the disparities and housing insecurity in the District. Can you give us some background on this report?
ROSENYes, absolutely. So, this is a report that I wrote with a colleague of mine, Brian McCabe. And what we did is we looked at all of the eviction records in the District during a five-year period, from 2014 to 2018. So, this is, of course pre-pandemic data, but I think that it can give us a really important baseline to understand how eviction works in the city, who it affects the most, and why.
NNAMDIAs you said, you focused on evictions. Why was that important, for you to look at that particular issue?
ROSENYeah. So, in particular, we really focus on eviction filings. We also, of course, look at evictions that are carried all the way to term. Executed evictions is how they're referred to. But what we show in the report is that filing really matters above and beyond the eviction itself. So, above and beyond that moment where law enforcement shows up to change the locks, right.
ROSENAnd filing is, of course, the moment in which the landlord actually initiates the legal suit against the tenant. And what we find is that there are around 30,000 filings a year in D.C. What that means is around one in nine, or 11 percent of D.C. renters experience an eviction filing every year.
ROSENAnd what happens when a tenant receives a filing is that whether or not it results in eviction, and only about 5.5 percent of filings actually make it all the way through the process, that filing is nevertheless entered onto the tenant's record. And landlords really see this filing as a red flag, so people refer to this as sort of a scarlet letter. And when that tenant is looking for housing in the future, they may really have trouble finding it. So, landlords don't actually differentiate that much between a filing and an executed eviction. They just see that history, and they don't want to rent to the tenant.
ROSENAnd, of course, research shows that a history of eviction is associated with future housing instability, worse outcomes when it comes to where people live. So, they may be more likely to end up in a neighborhood, say, with higher crime or poorly performing schools just because of the fact that they had that mark on their record once they had that filing.
NNAMDIAnd you mentioned that the period you looked at was pre-pandemic but the housing crisis in our region, as you indicated, predates the hardships brought by the pandemic. But what are your concerns about how that financial hit will ultimately affect people already struggling to afford housing in our region?
ROSENYeah, absolutely. And, of course, what we know about the affordable housing crisis pre-pandemic is that incomes have stagnated while rents have risen. So, we show that 93 percent of the filings pre-pandemic are for nonpayment of rent. They're not for other sorts of issues related to a lease violation, or anything like that. Most of them are simply for nonpayment of rent, and that's because there's not enough affordable housing in the District, like most cities in this country.
ROSENSo, when we think about what might happen once the moratorium is lifted, I think we can expect to find similar geographic patterns to the ones that we have found. There will, of course, be new people facing eviction, people who might not have ever faced housing instability before the pandemic. But I think we're also likely to see that communities who were previously hard hit with eviction will be hit even harder in the future.
NNAMDIIn the report, Eva Rosen, you write that eviction and housing instability begin a cycle of instability. How does this cycle work, and how has the pandemic affected the cycle?
ROSENI think it's really related to this point that I made about filings, right. So, as soon as a person experiences income volatility, they miss a paycheck, they lose their job related to the pandemic or related to some other reason, as soon as that happens, there are many landlords in the city who will go ahead and initiate that eviction suit immediately. And, again, that gets entered onto the tenant's record, and it makes it harder for them to find housing in the future.
ROSENSo, even if only 5 percent of these filings end up in an actual eviction, that means that most of the time, tenants are actually paying the rent owed, or they're leaving before the eviction happens. Even though most of those evictions aren't going all the way through to the moment of physical expulsion from the home, the tenant's residential history is still getting that mark, which means that it's going to affect their ability to find housing in the future.
ROSENAnd, of course, we know that stable housing is related to being able to keep a steady job. It's related to mental health outcomes, children's performance in school, right, all of these really important outcomes that we care about.
NNAMDIYou learned that only 20 landlords in the District were responsible for 47 percent of eviction filings for nonpayment of rent. First, what does the process look like in the District, how is it used, and what does that mean for tenants?
ROSENYeah. So, we knew that there would be some concentration, because, of course, you know, there is a concentration of property among a certain number of landlords. But we were actually pretty shocked to find how concentrated this was. And, like you said, the top 20 landlords in D.C. are responsible for nearly half of all eviction filings in the District.
ROSENWhat this means is that, especially large landlords, right, they are filing immediately as soon as tenants are late on rent. And the other piece of this is actually that for every tenant who receives a filing – so, if you look at the year 2018 -- 60 percent of those people, of tenants who had one filing, 60 percent of them actually had more than one filing at that same address. And this is something we call serial filings.
ROSENSo, it tells us something important. When tenants received multiple filings a year from the same landlord, at the same address, it means that landlords aren't just using filing as a means to evict tenants. In fact, in many cases we think landlords don't intend to evict at all, but they're actually using a filing as a tactic to put legal pressure on the tenants either to pay or to leave, in a way that is less of a hassle from the landlord.
ROSENThe problem here, of course, is that it's really a misuse of the court system. The court becomes overburdened with cases where the tenant was never going to get evicted. They just needed a little more time to come up with the money. And so, landlords are really sort of needlessly dragging tenants to court, causing them to miss work, and simultaneously reducing the capacity of the court to actually arbitrate real landlord-tenant disputes. Because the court is just flooded with these cases that aren't actually going anywhere. And as evidence of that, what we find is that 70 percent of all of these filings are actually dismissed in court, meaning that the judge decided there was no legal basis for the suit.
NNAMDIHere is Kadere in Ward 2 in Washington. Kadere, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KADEREHey, how you doing? I work for the Consumer Engagement Workgroup under the ICH. And what we do is we prepare -- we are the city emergency response for homelessness. And we was already preparing for a big impact of homelessness before the COVID hit. So, my question was, what can y'all do to, like, kind of put something in your framework to try to help embrace that? Mainly like try to embrace impact of homelessness that we're going to have after the moratorium, or whatever, because it's going to be a whole lot worse.
NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, is that something that you've been looking at?
SCHWEITZEROh, yeah. I mean, there's no question in my mind and this, you know, also according to a number of economists and advocates. You know, there's absolutely no doubt that without additional financial assistance, particularly from Congress, that we are going to have a spike in homelessness because of this crisis. There is simply not enough assistance out there flowing from state government and from Congress, particularly, to help people stay in their homes safely.
SCHWEITZERSo, the answer, I think, is large scale financial assistance. And that assistance, as we know, has been locked in Congress in these negotiations with Democrats and Republicans at very different ends of the conversation. So, you know -- and I don't know where that package is now. It looks like we're not going to get any relief, at least until after the election.
NNAMDIEva Rosen, in your report you claim that eviction prevention is a racial justice issue. How have evictions, in your view, been racialized?
ROSENYeah, that's right. So, what we find is that if we look at all of the filings and all of the evictions, 60 percent of both filings and evictions take place east of the River in Wards 7 and 8, where over 90 percent of residents are people of color and the poverty rate is among the highest in the city.
ROSENSo, in D.C., as a whole, one in nine D.C. renters experience an eviction filing each year. But when you look specifically in Ward 8, that number goes up to one in four. So, a quarter of renters in Ward 8 are experiencing at least one eviction filing every year. So, we really do see this relationship between race, poverty and eviction filing, especially in this city, which is so segregated.
NNAMDIHere now is Shay in Washington, D.C. Shay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHAYThank you for taking my call. I just wanted to express my view as a landlord who has my own financial obligations for my home that I rent out. I do have to pay my mortgage, of course, on a monthly basis, and sometimes the tenants don't understand that view. And if I'm unable to pay the mortgage because they don't pay the rent, then I may possibly have my house go into foreclosure. So, I agree with the guests with the financial packet that needs to come through to help tenants, which will definitely in turn help landlords who are homeowners in the District.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing that point of view with us. I'd like to also go to Ronald in Washington, D.C. Ronald, it's your turn. Go ahead, please.
RONALDThank you for taking my call. I think it's wonderful that we are supporting those tenants who have maybe been out of work because of the pandemic, etcetera. But a lot of landlords are smalltime retirees who desperately depend on the income from the property they are renting to sustain them.
RONALDI have an 85-year-old cousin that I have seen age before my eyes because it took her two years to get rid of a deadbeat tenant before the pandemic. He had students at UDC's law school representing him pro bono. She doled out $50,000 just to get him out. And two very close friends lost their homes because they needed the income from their rental properties to pay their mortgages. So, I'm wondering if we have in place any measures that have been passed to support smalltime landlords who, just as the caller before me stated, have bills to pay, also.
NNAMDIIndeed, Ally Schweitzer, this pandemic has been hard on especially small landlords, as well. As our caller pointed out, many still have to pay mortgages, taxes and such for their properties, whether or not tenants pay their rent. What have you been hearing from local landlords, and what can you tell our caller Ronald that the city has been doing for them?
SCHWEITZERI would say -- I mean, every landlord and every landlord attorney that I've spoken to have said, again and again, there's simply not enough attention being paid on the policy level to landlords, and particularly small landlords. I mean, if you look at the data, I mean, what it shows us is that big landlords are actually doing okay, right, across the country. Landlords at these properties, they're actually seeing rent collection remain fairly stable during the pandemic.
SCHWEITZERWe don't have good data on small landlords, though. So, all I really have to go on is what I've heard in a series of interviews that I've done with small landlords. And, yeah, I mean, as Ronald and Shay were saying, this is a crisis for small landlords, too. And, you know, you can't really deny that if you have a mass foreclosure wave, for example, that that's not going to have repercussions for many people, not just landowners, not just landlords.
SCHWEITZERSo, I mean, what we could end up seeing, if we have a lot of small landlords who lose their properties because they can't pay their mortgage, we could start to see their properties be sold to condo developers. So, you take a lot of rental housing out of the market -- we already have a shortage of rental housing in this market -- and small landlords tend to charge lower rents than the big guys. So, you get rid of the small landlords, and you're going to have an affordability problem that's even bigger than the one we already have.
NNAMDIAnd, Ronald, thank you for your call. Let's go to Mike, in Alexandria. Mike, your turn.
MIKEThanks, Kojo. So, I work in property management, and the real solution here would be, and if we could pause the debt that is owed by the landlords, we could probably be okay. We'd be collecting enough rent to still maintain our services, maintain our maintenance services that we need to provide to the residents. But if we didn't have to pay the mortgages to the banks, we could afford to collect less rent or some rent deferred to people who are struggling.
MIKEAnd, for example, it was announced today that Wells Fargo made $2 billion last quarter. I'm sure if they just made $1 billion, they wouldn't be all that put out. And if the banks could accept that they would get their money later, but not immediately, and it might make still some money but less of the money now, that would totally alleviate most of this problem.
NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, have you been hearing that from small landlords?
SCHWEITZEROh, I mean, landlords want any kind of savings they could possibly get because relief is in very, very short supply. Do I think that there's going to be wholesale mortgage forgiveness? No, I don't. I think that the only really attainable solution is to put more money in the system with federal dollars. You cannot balance this crisis on landlords, and you also can't forgive debt en masse because that leads to a whole other ripple effect of problems, right, down the line.
SCHWEITZERAnd even potentially, you know, the collapse of our financial system, right. So, the money has got to flow, and it's got to come from the government because they can literally print money (laugh) to match the scale of this crisis. State governments cannot do that. Just the feds.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from a listener who says: Before COVID D.C. had huge eviction homelessness and low-income housing crises. Data from the Urban Institute, the Brookings Institution and more show COVID could result in tens of thousands more people experiencing homelessness in D.C. Also, informal, illegal evictions are still rampant.
NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, the hold on evictions will lift at some point. Right now, it's the end of this year. What will that mean for tenants? Will all past rent come due, some 10 months of it? And how will someone already struggling be able to pay that much months of back rent?
SCHWEITZERYou know, I don't see a way it's possible. Again, I just keep -- I feel like a broken record, because I just keep coming back to the financial assistance. But, I mean, who's going to pay for all this rent? Not tenants. (laugh) Not tenants who have been out of work this whole time. Certainly not restaurant workers and people who were already struggling, who lost their jobs, you know, during this crisis.
SCHWEITZERSo, I just don't -- yes, I mean, the problem is that the rent is going to be due at some point. And if you can't pay it, you're going to get evicted after all these bans. And so, you know, these eviction bans, while they do provide temporary relief, they really are a band aid. You know, they're basically putting a pause button on something that is probably inevitable without more money from the government.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Rebecca, who says: On the issue of race, one just needs to spend a day in landlord-tenant court to see that the defendants are overwhelmingly people of color. Eva Rosen, if there are large scale evictions post-pandemic, how would it affect the quality of life in this region?
ROSENWell, I think Ally points to a really important point, which is that we can expect quite a bump in homelessness. But I also think that short of homelessness we need to think about what housing instability actually means for people. So, again, even just the threat of instability really affects people's ability to keep a job, to take care of their kids, to perform -- to do homework, right. These are basic needs that families have in the District, and everywhere. And when our housing is threatened, it makes it really hard to keep up with all these daily tasks.
NNAMDIHere is Ursula in Washington, D.C. Ursula, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
URSULAGood afternoon, Kojo. My question is, is there a nonprofit organization or a D.C. organization where one could assist with rental payments for those who are in danger of being evicted?
NNAMDIAs you know, you probably know D.C. has many nonprofit organizations that exist for the primary purpose of helping people who are challenged financially. But I don't know specifically about those helping with rent. Do you, Ally Schweitzer?
SCHWEITZERYeah, there's actually -- there are a few different options. I mean, again, they're all ad hoc and there's nothing that's really that comprehensive. But, you know, of course the District government has its own pots of money available for qualifying tenants. I mean, they're targeted to low-income tenants or people who already live in affordable housing. So, there's that option. You know, you have programs like Emergency Rental Assistance Program in the District that has been helpful to some folks during the crisis.
SCHWEITZERAnd then on the nonprofit or in the philanthropic side, I did a story recently about this really interesting program called Thrive East of the River that is just -- it's an entirely philanthropic effort that targets families living in Ward 8 who have lost their income during the crisis. And it's basically just $5,500 cash, no questions asked. They don't care how you spend the money. You spend it however you need. And that program -- we're going to know more about its results after the Urban Institute completes this very far-reaching analysis that it's doing over the long term on how people are using the money and how it's been helpful.
SCHWEITZERBut that program has been actually keeping people housed. The folks who are lucky enough to get this money, it's about 500 families expected to benefit from it. So, yes, there are ad hoc solutions and there's limited assistance from the D.C. government.
NNAMDIA listener tweets: Listening to this segment on eviction moratoriums, and I truly think that we need to shift our thinking to housing clean and accessible housing as a human rights dignity issue. In the 30 seconds or so we have left, Eva Rosen, what steps should the region be taking to address the evictions and homelessness?
ROSENYeah. So, we have a number of recommendations that I think I would also characterize as band aid solutions, right. Efforts to keep people out of court.
ROSENAnd also, when they do get to court, to make sure that their records are sealed.
ROSENBut I think the bigger issue is really about root causes. How can we provide a systemic change, money for people to actually pay their rent?
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Eva Rosen, Ally Schweitzer, thank you both for joining us. This segment on the end of eviction moratoriums was produced by Richard Cunningham. And our conversation about the lack of public restrooms in the District was produced by Lauren Markoe. Today's show was part of our 2020 contribution to the D.C. Homeless Crisis Reporting Project, a collaboration with WAMU's newsroom and other local media organizations. All of the work produced as part of this collaboration can be found at DChomelesscrisis.press.
NNAMDIComing up Friday on The Politics Hour, we check in with Maryland Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford about the pandemic, the fate of the Purple Line and how voting is going in his state. Plus, Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton of Virginia's 10th district joins us to discuss her reelection campaign and what she sees as priorities for Virginia voters. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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