Report Examines Why Renters of Color Expected Eviction Despite Moratorium

A report by the Urban Institute, “Perceptions of Eviction Likelihood among Renters of Color,” explores why Black renters and other renters of color behind on rent in Washington, D.C. commonly believed they were at risk of eviction despite the strength of D.C.’s eviction moratorium enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers recommend policymakers expand financial assistance programs, account for a lack of internet and language barriers when conducting outreach and use a trauma-informed lens in the development of new housing policies.

The eviction moratorium in D.C., first proposed in March 2020, has been one of the strongest in the country, banning evictions, late fees, and utility shut offs. Beginning in November 2020, the moratorium was strengthened so that landlords were prohibited from serving tenants an eviction notice. Barring further action, landlords will be able to file new eviction proceedings in mid-October 2021. Despite a relatively strong moratorium, 46% of Black renter households in D.C. who fell behind on rent between May 2020 and July 2021 said eviction was very or somewhat likely in the next two months, according to the Household Pulse Survey.

To understand why renters had this expectation while the moratorium was in place, the researchers conducted interviews with four tenant service organizations in D.C. Tenant advocates suggested that landlords were making informal eviction threats to circumvent formal protections. Landlords can push tenants out by threatening but not following through with an eviction, or by taking other measures like harassing tenants, locking them out, or showing their homes to prospective renters. Interviewees also reported that many tenants tend to not trust the legal protections of the moratoriums or the eviction litigation process. This mistrust might be due to a lack of clear information about the moratorium, or to barriers to accessing information due to a lack of internet access or language barriers. Previous experiences in eviction court and seeing how renters of color are disproportionately at risk made some renters of color less confident that the moratorium would protect them.

The researchers suggest that tenants experiencing housing instability may have more exposure to triggers for anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges than people who have not faced housing insecurity due to the pandemic. An eviction notice can evoke feelings of anxiety in a tenant and make the tenant erroneously believe the eviction is imminent because of their past experiences. Therefore, the researchers suggest D.C. policymakers should center renters’ welfare by incorporating trauma-informed practices and procedures into rental assistance efforts. This could include hiring case managers to guide renters facing eviction through the legal process, instituting regulations that give renters who face eviction support while they find permanent housing, or building steps into the eviction process that connect renters with other social supports.

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