Op-Ed: Eviction is a root cause of racial discrimination

One in every eight low-income renting families cannot afford to pay their rent, and a similar proportion believe they will be evicted soon.  Photo by    Linh Do    on Flickr Creative Commons.

One in every eight low-income renting families cannot afford to pay their rent, and a similar proportion believe they will be evicted soon. Photo by Linh Do on Flickr Creative Commons.

By Himaja Nagireddy

Today, eviction notices pinned on the doors of apartments are a common sight in almost all major urban poor neighborhoods. These notices signify the displacement of millions of Americans every year from the safety of their homes and shelters. One in every eight low-income renting families cannot afford to pay their rent, and a similar proportion believe they will be evicted soon. Those who manage to avoid homelessness often cope with poor housing, disadvantaged neighborhoods, and unfair rental terms. Eviction increases the risk of job loss, poor health, and poor children’s education. Moreover, studies from different urban areas have shown that 80% of people facing evictions are people of color.

A major factor perpetuating this problem is that landlords have the freedom to ask tenants about their eviction history and can access court data on tenant eviction history through tenant screening companies to create tenant blacklists. These blacklists, which could be based on eviction cases that were dismissed, filed years ago, or based on unlawful reasons, prevent people from accessing housing options. This escalates the racial disparities of eviction, especially since black women are more likely to be blacklisted. Furthermore, landlords can threaten eviction if tenants violate the law or refuse to make repairs. Since many tenants try to avoid an eviction charge, they choose to move out or live in unsafe conditions without advocating for their renter rights. The willingness of tenants to put up with unsatisfactory situations further allows landlords to exploit the rights of tenants, especially racial minorities, without repercussions. In fact, data shows black women are five times more likely to have an eviction case on their record than white men. 

Eviction and housing discrimination are also apparent on a local level in Hartford, CT. Since wealth and generational assets are often passed down in the form of property, homeownership is an indication of financial stability. In the greater Hartford area, approximately 75.8% of whites own homes versus 38.1% of blacks. Since many black families rent their housing, racial discrimination in housing and evictions creates further disparities. The Connecticut Fair Housing Center annually receives around 2,500 calls from people who believe they are victims of housing discrimination based on race. By creating a greater disparity of homeownership between racial minorities and whites, the racial wealth gap built on structural racism is maintained and continues to grow. According to a 2017 study, “the median wealth held by black families with a college degree and student loans by the time the head of household is 65 years old...is about $61,000, versus roughly $422,000 for white families under the same circumstances”. This disparity in wealth is primarily due to differences in generational wealth inheritances, such as housing, between whites and blacks. 

The racial wealth gap that stems from high rent rates also results in gentrification, which continues to suppress racial minority families around the country. Gentrification forces low-income racial minority families out of their houses and communities. This leads to an influx in new development and rising housing rent costs, further exacerbating evictions and permanently changing the culture of the community. 

The upward trend in gentrification rates directly impacts eviction. In the national renter population, Hispanic renters in neighborhoods with a 66% white population had a 50% higher eviction rate than the general renter population, and Hispanic renters in almost entirely white neighborhoods had an eviction rate that was twice that of the general renter population.

Eviction affects almost 3 million Americans every year and disproportionately affects racial minorities, which affects families from accessing new housing, better jobs, schools, healthcare and transportation. As a result, eviction is the root cause of many forms of racial inequality that exist in our society today. Everyone has the basic right to safe and secure living conditions. Denying this right to racial minorities through the systemic racism that exists in the current eviction process is one of the largest human rights violations in our country today. Renting property should be a fair and just process, and the racial discrimination that permeates the rental property market needs to be addressed for any meaningful social and economic process to occur in the future.