‘It’s a problem we need to hate more’
February 16, 2017 12:23 PM   Subscribe

No place like home: America’s eviction epidemic Office Susie had told her to ask her family for rent. She often heard a similar line at the crisis centres. When the social workers behind the glass asked her, “Well, don’t you have family that can help?” Larraine sometimes would reply, “Yes, I have family, and, no, they can’t help.”
posted by Michele in California (31 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Aren't we living in a world where market forces are paramount, and so there's no injustice here because if you can't afford it, then GTFO?

If there's one thing the US is really terrible at doing, it's balancing its fetish with the Free Market and economic justice.

Honestly, I think sometimes if Martin Luther King, Jr. were more recognized for his calls for economic justice rather than racial injustice, our country would be in a lot better shape because the things he was calling for 50+ years ago in the economic arena would have made a lot bigger impact on the problems of the Inner City for everyone concerned.
posted by hippybear at 12:39 PM on February 16 [9 favorites]


Honestly, I think sometimes if Martin Luther King, Jr. were more recognized for his calls for economic justice rather than racial injustice, our country would be in a lot better shape

That's exactly why he's not remembered for his economic activism today. His legacy has been deliberately and systematically whitewashed (to use an unfortunate expression), because while his crusade against racism was troublesome, it wasn't nearly as threatening to the kyriarchy as his battles for economic justice.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:13 PM on February 16 [37 favorites]


Eviction and cancer, probably the two most terrifying words I can think of. If there is a worse word, I'd rather not hear it.

PS, Tent cities for petty criminals, awesome! Tent cities for the homeless, never!
posted by Beholder at 1:31 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


King was also about to start a big anti-Vietnam War campaign, wasn't he, when he was shot?
posted by thelonius at 1:41 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Not just anti-Vietnam, but also pro-labor and possibly even basic income.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:43 PM on February 16 [10 favorites]


And in my area, anyway, we even have apartments and houses sitting empty, and landlords would rather get no rent than less rent.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:23 PM on February 16 [9 favorites]


It's easy for people (like me) who aren't directly affected by this to think the waves of evictions in the cities where I have lived were just a temporary horror during the worst of the financial crisis. Thanks for posting this reminder.

I found myself thinking about the private actors here and their complicity in this process. I know people have to make a living and there isn't anything inherently immoral in being the person to remove someone's belongs, even if the larger eviction process is immoral. But how hardened to people's pain do you have to be to be the mover who chirps "Curbside service, baby!" (real quote from the article) when someone being evicted opts to have things put on the curb because they have nowhere else for their belongings to go?

Also, this, from the article, is a stark summary of the financial crisis:
Hispanic and African American neighbourhoods had been targeted by the sub-prime lending industry: renters were lured into buying bad mortgages, and homeowners were encouraged to refinance under riskier terms. Then it all came crashing down. Between 2007 and 2010, the average white family experienced an 11% reduction in wealth, but the average black family lost 31% of its wealth. The average Hispanic family lost 44.7%.

Thank you, Treasury Secretary Foreclosure King. (Yes, I know Mnuchin mostly handled reverse mortgages, which had a different demographic, but the general concept stands.)
posted by alligatorpear at 3:00 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Don't sweat it, Gator--reverse mortgages are just another great way to take value that might otherwise turn into family wealth and convert it to cash that giant corporations can sit on during a recession!
posted by radicalawyer at 3:54 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


And in my area, anyway, we even have apartments and houses sitting empty, and landlords would rather get no rent than less rent.

No rent can be cheaper than rent minus expenses. Damages can be a lot of money and judgements don't mean the landlord will get money.

At the same time, this seems like a bad allocation of resources. Safe housing isn't cheap. Throw in NIMBY and it is a non starter where it is needed most.
posted by Monday at 4:31 PM on February 16


Too bad America forgot how to make cottages. Housing doesn't have to be unaffordable. It's a strategy, not a necessity.

Down-to-basics 10x10s and 20x20s would be very helpful for all people displaced by misfortune ... not to mention the 'homeless' (the label with the solution built right into it) . Throw some at-cost rents into the mix for those who can afford them. I've no doubt there'd be plenty of volunteers to help build them.

But hey ... that'd be too socialist, right? Socialist schools, highways, roads, sewers, police, dams, 'land banks' ... for the right people it's never a problem.
posted by Twang at 4:35 PM on February 16 [7 favorites]



Down-to-basics 10x10s and 20x20s would be very helpful for all people displaced by misfortune ... not to mention the 'homeless' (the label with the solution built right into it) . Throw some at-cost rents into the mix for those who can afford them. I've no doubt there'd be plenty of volunteers to help build them.


I don't really agree with this because it doesn't solve basic issues such as: 1) electricity, 2) plumbing, waste removal and 3) basic safety issues, i.e. fire retardation and the like. I like the idea of homes, but I prefer the idea of safe and sanitary homes.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 5:21 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


I am a landlord from a family of landlords. We have been involved in the residential rental market in my area since 1972.

Eviction is a CIVIL procedure where I live. It takes place through the courts, it is measured and sedate, and it IS NOT sudden or illegal.

Here's a timeline.

April 1: Tenant fails to pay rent.

May 6: Landlord files eviction paperwork at the local JP. Cost $170. (Landlord COULD file eviction paperwork on April 2, but if tenant comes up with the rent later, the $170 is gone and not coming back. A lot of tenants who are struggling can get money from somewhere, just not at the first of the month. If tenant is a full month back, though, they're probably eviction material. Also, one of my two JP's illegally "awards" the tenant's deposit as "the back rent" on the theory that the tenant will then "make up" the deposit again. This never happens. But, if I file in the first month, the JP awards the deposit and then I have "paid rent" and "no deposit" and I have to do it again the following month. It's just easier to wait until two months of rent are due because Justice So-and-So is a complete asshole who awards my deposits for rent.)

BETWEEN MAY 6 and MAY 16, Tenant is notified of hearing, set by law 10 days after the filing date. Assuming the weekends are copacetic, the hearing will be on May 16.

May 16: There is a hearing at the JP's office. Assuming the rent ain't been paid, I will win. I always win if the rent ain't been paid.

There is an appeal period. The tenant has 15 days to appeal the decision, though if the finding was for the landlord ON THE BASIS OF THE RENT AIN'T BEEN PAID, the tenant has to post the rent due in order to appeal. And, typically, if I don't have the rent, they also don't have the rent due that must be posted in order to appeal because if they HAD the rent, I would have the rent and we would not be having a hearing at all.

May 31: Appeal period has expired. I can file an order for possession. I go back to the JP's office and pay another $170 and file for possession of the property. Tenant is notified of the order for possession, which takes place ten days after I file for it, or after the weekend if it falls on a weekend.

June 12 (because June 10 was a weekend) is the possession. When the possession happens, the constable shows up at the appointed time (it's on the paper, which is both taped to the door of the property and mailed to the tenant) and I change the locks and the tenant has to get out.

At this juncture, the tenant has stayed in my apartment for TWO AND A HALF MONTHS (April, May, through June 12) without paying me any damn money.

The tenant DOES NOT lose any belongings. I am NOT ALLOWED to sell any tenant belongings for back rent without levying on them in court. I am NOT ALLOWED to throw the belongings out in the street EVEN IF THE TENANT LEAVES THEM BEHIND. I have to notify the tenant IN WRITING about the stuff they left behind, I have to carefully store it for six freaking weeks, and I still can't sell it at the end of that period without giving the first 2K of sale proceeds to the tenant. News flash: If you're being evicted, your used stuff ain't worth 2K.

I am NOT ALLOWED to remove the front door, shut off the water or electric or heat, or "force" the tenant to leave. Those things are illegal as all hell and could result in serious cash penalties from the courts.

I am allowed to throw a couple hundred bucks at the tenant in exchange for a written notice of "I am moving" and the keys in hand... and I'm not saying I haven't done that. But it's not coercion. If I offer the tenant $340 to gtfo and the tenant says "Sure, suckah!" and writes an "I have moved out of Apartment" and delivers me the keys... how is that wrong? I'd have spent $340 in court costs to get them out anyway. They don't have the damn money to pay the rent and I could evict them... heck, I WILL evict them... in approximately two and a half months in which case they get (a) a judgment against them because I totally record judgments and (b) no $340 in cash and (c) the ability to stay in my apartment for two and a half more months OR they can have $340 and get out this weekend. A lot of them choose the cash in hand.

I get that it's a crying shame people can't afford places to live, but I am not the red cross. I own buildings. I rent out these buildings to people who pay me rent. They sign a legal agreement to pay me rent. If they stop paying me rent, I evict them using the correct, legal, and appropriate process.
posted by which_chick at 5:33 PM on February 16 [22 favorites]


To me, the real point of this article is that there is a dire need for genuinely affordable housing. Housing has gotten dramatically more expensive in recent decades, larger, more luxurious, etc. Meanwhile, wages have stagnated.

I happened to trip across this piece today and I chose to post it because of a recent exchange I had elsewhere on mefi that highlighted once again that people think "homeless" and "street people" are the same thing (they aren't) and also think it is some handful of addicts and losers and there is not much point in trying to do anything for them (also not the whole truth). I have had a class on homelessness and public policy and I am currently doing (cough) "Advanced Field Work" in the subject (which is a nice way of saying I have been homeless for 5+ years myself -- nothing like living it to get a whole new understanding of something).

From what I have read, when the Irish Potato Famine began, landlords let tenants stay without rent because things were so bad that they weren't going to fill the units anyway, so why just have boatloads of people out in the street? Then the government decided to tax the landlords or something like that for every unit that was full, even if it was not generating rent. The landlords did not have the money for that, so they began evicting people.

I am really sad to live in a world where money has become so very much more important than human welfare. I don't think it was really always that way, though I have no fantasies that we ever had some utopia on earth.
posted by Michele in California at 6:20 PM on February 16 [10 favorites]


I don't really agree with this because it doesn't solve basic issues

I think Twang was probably thinking of the tiny house style 10x10s or 20x20s. Which would have electricity, bathrooms, insulation, and would be built to code. I've seen some implementations of this for homeless and low income people. It's not a bad idea, especially since the material costs of this style house can be kept fairly low.

I'm glad I'm not and probably never will be a landlord. Evicting someone from their home would be a difficult thing to do, especially if their lack of rent money came from a string of bad luck and not from some personal fault.
posted by honestcoyote at 6:45 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


Those things are illegal as all hell and could result in serious cash penalties from the courts.


Yeah, those same tenants who can't afford to pay their rent or to move their stuff and whose entire lives have just been upended by eviction are totally going to hire high-powered lawyers who will carefully gather evidence to make this case against you for $500 or whatever.

I will not go so far as to say that landlords are universally evil, but if you actually read Evicted itself, you will see that it is full of landlords breaking laws. Even with a freaking white researcher standing right there. Let's skip the fairy tales.
posted by praemunire at 7:37 PM on February 16 [19 favorites]


reverse mortgages are just another great way to take value that might otherwise turn into family wealth

Just curious what the problem is with a reverse mortgage or what is so great about family wealth?

I hope my dad does a reverse mortgage. He lives 3000 miles away and I want nothing less than to think about what to do with a house I don't want after he dies.

If he wants money to blow as he gets older, I say go for it! He can't do anything after he's dead. Why should he sacrifice to build wealth he's never going to use?
posted by paulcole at 8:19 PM on February 16


what is so great about family wealth?

Some people aren't wealthy enough on their own that they think the hassle of dealing with a parent's estate isn't worth it. A lot of people, in fact.
posted by hades at 9:02 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


landlords would rather get no rent than less rent

Something I find baffling, more for commercial properties but also residential.
posted by Rash at 9:16 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


Well after reading about the children who got evicted despite their mother being dead, I don't think I'm sleeping tonight.
posted by corb at 10:27 PM on February 16 [4 favorites]


I get that it's a crying shame people can't afford places to live, but I am not the red cross. I own buildings. I rent out these buildings to people who pay me rent. They sign a legal agreement to pay me rent.

The tiny violins, they're playing for you!

This is about the effects of predatory lending, stagnant wages, increasing rents and property values and the social and personal destruction wrought by the removal of people from their homes. And here you are making it about you. You don't seem to care about people who haven't got access to the kind of dynastic wealth that you have, but you seem awfully sensitive about people maybe saying less-than-kind things about landlords on the internet. That's awfully callous, but unsurprising -- you're basically confirming peoples' worst prejudices about landlords.
posted by klanawa at 11:18 PM on February 16 [28 favorites]


Just curious what the problem is with a reverse mortgage or what is so great about family wealth?

Family wealth is the thing that insulates you from problems. If you're privileged enough that you never have to worry about that kind of thing, great for you. For those who aren't, a few generations of parents with enough resources to help out their kids is a big step towards becoming middle class, or even up from there. One generation without enough resources to help out when a crisis happens and you wind up with these sorts of disasters that impact people for life.

Not all family wealth is about beach houses and yacht clubs. Sometimes it's about being able to deal with your daughter's divorce when she's a stay-at-home mom with young kids, or the fact that you got cancer in your 50s and wound up having to take extended unpaid leave at a time you didn't intend to be having to tap into your retirement savings, or when your college-age kid's got the opportunity to go to a much better school but needs money to move there before the student loans come through. Or whatever. It's a cushion that lets people actually have stability, a foundation to build on, that the poor and working class routinely lack and the middle class takes for granted.

I got $500 when my dad died, which wasn't enough to pay back the amount I'd loaned him over the years by a long shot. I don't expect to get a penny from my mom and I don't feel owed that. But life without a family safety net is a very different thing from life when you know someone's there to catch you.
posted by Sequence at 11:27 PM on February 16 [18 favorites]


But life without a family safety net is a very different thing from life when you know someone's there to catch you

Yeah. Like, my husband lost his job and I was freaked out, and my dad offered that we could all move back to the East Coast and into his house. That wouldn't have been fun, and I didn't want to do it, but knowing it existed as a real option was enormously comforting and meant I had to spin my wheels just a little bit less.
posted by corb at 5:07 AM on February 17 [8 favorites]


I asked a question a few weeks ago about affordable housing, and I'm starting to weed through the resources mentioned. I started with Snob Zones, which is a collection of essays/articles about various localities dealing with affordable housing issues. I'm looking forward to digging deeper into the studies noted in the book, but the thing I'm taking from the book itself is that it's not unique to any area for their to be both active and passive resistance to building affordable housing. And I agree with Michele in California that there is a dire need. I was looking over the plans for the proposed build in our town- 20% of the units would be "affordable", at $900 a month. The market rate units were $1700 for a one-bedroom (I think). Both of those prices seem insane to me.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:44 AM on February 17 [5 favorites]


Rates for housing vary wildly depending on where in the country one resides. In Greater Rednecklandia, a spacious two-bedroom apartment, landlord pays water and trash, tenant pays electric (heat is electric) and other utilities, no washer-dryer hookup currently rents for $560 a month. You also get off-street parking and one floor (no stairs) for that price.

Around here, people who can put together $1700 a month for housing are called homeowners.
posted by which_chick at 6:29 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Rates for housing vary wildly depending on where in the country one resides.

Yep. In the town where I grew up, and lived for a while as a young adult, I was paying $300 a month for a three-bedroom, two-story Victorian house in the heart of town. Not a show place, and not in perfect repair, but a solid home. Of course, it was a town pretty much nobody wanted to live in. $300 a month won't get you a bedroom in a shared fleabag apartment in my current town. Not even in the outskirts.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:07 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I hope my dad does a reverse mortgage.

No, you don't. It's one of the most expensive possible ways to access equity. If your dad can't sustain his desired standard of living in his home in retirement, he needs to sell it and downsize. Unless he's a very lucky man, he'll do better financially that way.

Well after reading about the children who got evicted despite their mother being dead, I don't think I'm sleeping tonight.

Don't read the whole book. There's something that happens in the middle to a family that's so horrible I had to take a pause before continuing.
posted by praemunire at 8:07 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


(Jeez, looking at that old town on Google Earth just now, it looks like something out of Silent Hill. I guess I got out while the getting was good.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:10 AM on February 17


In some places, eviction is pretty damn easy. It goes like this:

Feb 6th: Deliver tenant notice to cure default.
Feb 13th: Tenant still hasn't paid, so file papers with court
Feb 16th: Tenant has not deposited rent with court or failed to show at hearing, so judgement of eviction is automatically issued.
Feb 17th: Landlord enters, removes Tenant's things, places them outside.

Done.

Thankfully for tenants, a lot of landlords are stupid and do things like attempt to include late fees in the balance owed on the notice to cure, making the notice invalid. Then, if the tenant shows up, even without the money in hand, they can get it thrown out and stay another few days until the landlord gets their shit together. If that gives them the tenant time to get the money together, they might even avoid eviction until their lease is up, at which time they either leave or owe triple rent unless the landlord is too stupid to file a proper notice of termination, which many seem to be. Not that it is hard. The hard part seems to be properly dating it. A notice posted on the 17th to leave on the 1st is invalid, but two days earlier and it's fine.

The sad thing is that despite a very streamlined eviction process and there being literally nothing a tenant can do to drag out the process if they don't have the rent money in hand, landlords still complain that it's just so hard to evict people and that tenants are all scum taking advantage of the system.
posted by wierdo at 11:33 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Rates for housing vary wildly depending on where in the country one resides.

There is a very strong correlation between housing costs and local wages. Many residents of Rednecklandia cannot get a full time job with decent pay and benefits and struggle to come up with that $500 or so a month. In those places, the people who can afford $1700/month are not only called homeowners, they typically also have other spiffy titles and hold some of the few jobs that pay decently.

Many Americans are currently held hostage by the need to get a job in the big city and a dwelling as far out as they can humanly manage to commute without their lives coming completely apart at the seams. Given the general lack of public transit, this means they often need to own a car and spend crazy amounts on gasoline and high maintenance costs while they drive it into the ground trying to cope as best they can with a world designed to serve the needs of the 1 percent and no one else.

There is a reason the peasants are revolting here lately. And it isn't due to lack of a shower.
posted by Michele in California at 11:54 AM on February 17 [7 favorites]


Many residents of Rednecklandia cannot get a full time job with decent pay and benefits and struggle to come up with that $500 or so a month.

Please don't do this. You're saying this without any citation or backup, and your tone is entirely condescending.

That's not what life is like in places that aren't coastal cities. Not at all.

Alternately, "Many residents in Liberal Utopia cannot get a full time job with decent pay and benefits. Have you seen the tent cities of the homeless in Portland and Seattle and San Francisco etc?"

I mean, c'mon.
posted by hippybear at 3:53 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I was responding to this, which is where "Rednecklandia" comes from.

In Greater Rednecklandia, a spacious two-bedroom apartment, landlord pays water and trash, tenant pays electric (heat is electric) and other utilities, no washer-dryer hookup currently rents for $560 a month.

I will suggest that the FPP works well as a citation for the fact that ordinary people are having a really hard time affording housing regardless of where they live in the U.S.
posted by Michele in California at 4:13 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


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