Report finds people of color faced greater threat of eviction after moratorium expired

  • A map by Eric Robsky Huntley showing disparities in eviction filings in Holyoke, where neighborhoods of color were more likely to face eviction than those with majority white residents. Data for the map comes from MassCourts, American Community Survey 2015-2019 estimates and MassGIS. ERIC ROBSKY HUNTLEY

Staff Writer
Published: 3/25/2022 11:47:55 AM
Modified: 3/25/2022 11:47:04 AM

HOLYOKE — Renters in communities of color faced a disproportionate number of eviction filings after elected officials let the state’s pandemic-related eviction moratorium expire in October 2020.

Those are the findings of a new study from the housing organization Homes for All Massachusetts and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who found that Black and Hispanic neighborhoods saw a disproportionate number of eviction filings. So, too, did households headed by single mothers.

Concentrated ownership by “absentee, corporate landlords” was strongly associated with high eviction filing rates, as opposed to live-in landlords, who filed for fewer non-payment and for-cause evictions, the researchers found. Communities with “higher levels of local engagement in eviction protection,” like local interventions against eviction and available resources, saw lower eviction filing rates.

“This report … reveals that eviction filings have been racialized, gendered, and classed across Massachusetts since the end of the state moratorium on evictions,” the report says. “Furthermore, we demonstrate that it matters who owns rental properties — places where a greater proportion of property was controlled by absentee owners saw higher rates of eviction filing.”

Amherst and Holyoke

Amherst was one of the communities the study focused on, revealing that renters living in “predominantly nonwhite areas” were 2.44 times more likely to face the threat of eviction as those living in “predominantly white areas.” In Holyoke, landlords in predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods filed 2.28 times more eviction filings per renter than in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Titled “Housing Justice Beyond the Emergency,” the report notes that the COVID-19 pandemic arrived “in the midst of a severe, years-long housing crisis in Massachusetts.” Expensive rental housing and large racial disparities in generational wealth already contributed to housing precarity in the state, the report says.

“Existing research shows that evictions are likely to contribute to higher rates of COVID-transmission among both adults and children,” the report says.

The study relied on an analysis of summary process eviction cases filed in the state’s six housing court divisions between Oct. 18, 2020, when policymakers let the state’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium collapse, and Oct. 28, 2021.

Across the state, landlords filed 43% of all evictions in neighborhoods with a majority of residents identifying as Black, Hispanic, Asian American/Pacific Islander or Indigenous, despite only 32% of the state’s housing stock falling in those neighborhoods.

At the same time, the researchers note that those places with a larger percentage of units owned by live-in landlords saw lower eviction-filing rates.

“These key findings remind us that disproportionate eviction filings are not the result of oppression in the abstract,” the report concludes. “Rather, they are the product of power and property relationships between tenant, landlord, and finance which are structured by systemic racism — particularly anti-Black racism — sexism, and classism.”

Overall, the longer that municipalities had a local eviction moratorium in place, the lower their eviction rate was likely to be, according to the report.

“However, we also find that implementing a local moratorium did not lead to a significant decrease in the eviction filing rate,” the researchers said. “This suggests that cities that implemented local moratoria are cities where local pressure and engagement had created political will to allocate resources to tenant protection.”

Homes for All Massachusetts is a coalition of grassroots housing justice organizations across the state, including Springfield No One Leaves.

“Right now there’s many things that municipalities want to be able to do to protect their residents, but without a home rule petition they can’t,” said Rose Webster-Smith, program director at Springfield No One Leaves. Those interventions include everything from rent control to prohibiting no-fault evictions. “Until the state Legislature actually gives municipalities back their powers, we’re going to see massive displacement.”

In a call to action, the organizers and researchers behind the report say that without intervention from state policymakers, injustice will become further entrenched in the state. They call for the preservation of emergency rental assistance and tenant protections, advancing policies like rent stabilization, expanding public financial support for affordable housing that renters have the opportunity to purchase, and prioritizing “the right to housing over investment interests.”

“As of March 2022, approximately 113,000 Massachusetts households are behind on their rent and at risk of eviction,” the study says. “The large majority of those renters (64%) are people of color. These compounding factors suggest that recovery from the pandemic will be extremely inequitable unless policymakers take decisive action soon.”

Webster-Smith noted that the report only focused on evictions that made their way to court. Many people simply don’t understand the eviction process and when they get a notice to vacate from the landlord, they just leave, thinking the sheriff is going to show up next.

“This excludes untold numbers of informal evictions, or those that happen outside the court system,” the report says. “Informal evictions typically occur when tenants move out after receiving threats from their landlord, and primarily affect the most vulnerable tenants. These tend to be tenants who do not have full knowledge of their legal rights, many of whom leave out of fear of engaging with the legal system because of their immigration status or other factors.”

Webster-Smith also highlighted the effect evictions have on mental health, adding that they often also lead to gentrification as landlords choose to rent to higher-income tenants. She also said it’s important to remember that single mothers experienced higher rates of eviction filing.

“600,000 women left the workforce when COVID hit and they were the ones expected to come home and do the Zoom school and they couldn’t work,” Webster-Smith said.

Webster-Smith noted that the administration of Gov. Charlie Baker has announced that it will stop taking applications on April 15 for the federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance Program, a pandemic-era program for tenants struggling to pay the rent. The state has the money to continue programs like that and to help tenants, she said.

“And yet nobody has the political will to want to do this,” she added.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.
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