A paper in Housing Policy Debate, “Eviction and Segmented Housing Markets in Richmond, Virginia,” argues that eviction and the threat of eviction play a role in segmenting the housing market and creating targeted housing scarcity for specific groups of tenants. The owners of a handful of lower-quality buildings, representing about 9% of all rental homes in Richmond, are responsible for 25% of all evictions. Interviews with renters suggested that the threat of an eviction record is used to keep renters in segregated and poor-quality housing.
The authors argue that eviction and the threat of eviction can keep renters in lower-quality housing. Because an eviction record can make a renter less attractive to other landlords, a renter’s housing options can be restricted by eviction. Somewhat surprisingly, then, eviction can be a means of increasing the demand for the lowest-quality housing when renters have few alternatives.
The authors constructed a large-building database for all multifamily buildings in Richmond with more than 25 units, which includes 31,676 units in 157 properties. They collected property characteristics, ownership and financing data, eviction filings between 2015 and 2018, and housing code violation data.
Their analysis found that some landlords are more likely to pursue evictions than others. Owners of large multifamily buildings in their database were responsible for 77% of all evictions in Richmond between 2015 and 2018, despite owning just 61% of the rental housing stock. Richmond’s public housing authority, the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA), accounts for about 7% of all rental housing in the city but was responsible for about 14% of all eviction judgments in 2018. Many of these evictions were for relatively small sums—in one property owned by RRHA, four-fifths of the judgments against tenants were for less than $300. The top 10 most frequently evicting owners own about 4,600 rental homes (about 9% of all rental housing in the city) but account for about 25% of all eviction judgments between 2015 and 2018. The majority of all evictions during that time were pursued by just 32 owners.
The analysis also sheds light on the geography and housing characteristics of high-evicting properties. While Richmond’s overall eviction rate is about 11%, evictions are highly geographically concentrated. In neighborhoods that are majority white, eviction rates are below 5%, while in some majority Black and Latino neighborhoods the rate exceeds 30%. The highest-evicting properties, most located in clusters on the north and south sides of the city, have high concentrations of housing code violations for unsafe and unfit structures.
The authors conducted interviews with 25 Richmond tenants who were experiencing eviction. Residents reported choosing to accept late fees for rent so that they to be able to pay for other necessities like utilities and transportation. Those who were able to remain in their current homes (often with the help of a legal aid attorney or social service agency) reported having few alternatives because of high costs, previous evictions, or a criminal record. Interviews suggested that when evicted renters moved, they were often forced into buildings with lower standards, short-term solutions like motels, or in with family and friends. From the interviews, the authors infer that landlords use the threat of evictions to keep tenants in housing, to extract additional fees, and generally to restrict tenants’ future housing options. They argue that in addition to addressing low incomes, policymakers need to attend to the power imbalance that makes eviction cheap for landlords.
The paper can be found at: https://bit.ly/3gNDwzu