by Marty Wegbreit
The August 15, 2019 post, “A Closer Look at Those Tenant-Eviction Stats,” fails to stand up to statistical or critical analysis. The post blames Virginia’s Independent City/County form of government for high eviction rates. (Five of the highest ten eviction rates in large U.S. cities over 100,000 population are in Virginia.) Virginia’s independent cities do not incorporate the wealthier suburbs. Supposedly, this artificially raises the eviction rate. No data are presented to support this theory.
When you examine cities of similar population, similar area, and similar percentage of African-American population, Richmond still stands out with a high eviction rate.
Richmond’s eviction rate is substantially greater than Jackson, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La. Something clearly is wrong in Richmond. The theory of cities that do not incorporate wealthier suburbs also fails when comparing Richmond to Chesapeake, an independent city more than 5½ times larger in area.
As to data accessibility, Professor Matthew Desmond compiled the first, largest, best, and only data base of evictions. He gathered 16 years of data from 47 states consisting of 83 million court records. Granted that many were from private sources and not court data from states directly. No evidence is presented that the private source data are inaccurate in any way.
As to court judgments versus evictions, Prof. Desmond makes abundantly clear that what he calls an eviction is a court order that transfers legal possession of rental property from the tenant to the landlord. This gives the landlord the legal right to have the tenant forcibly removed from the premises. That judgment of possession remains on public records for ten years. It serves as a barrier to any future rental. This happens whether the tenant remains with the landlord who got the judgment, leaves before the sheriff arrives, or leaves when the sheriff arrives.
Prof. Desmond’s definition of eviction in Virginia is exactly the same as his definition of eviction in Maryland, North Carolina, or any other state. This is an “apples to apples” comparison of the same thing. Virginia’s eviction rate is double the national average. Richmond’s eviction rate is four times the national average.
The blog correctly observes that of 6,891 Writs of Eviction received by the Richmond Sheriff, 2,527 were executed. Leaving aside the social costs of almost 10 evictions every single weekday every week of every year, we do not know what happens to the other 4,364 tenants whose Writs of Eviction were not executed by the Sheriff. We have no data as to how many tenants moved because they knew the Sheriff was coming, or how many were there a week, a month, three months, or six months after the Sheriff’s scheduled eviction did not happen.
The court and the Sheriff do not have that information. Only landlords do. Despite my repeated direct and public requests to landlords to release that information, I am unaware that it ever has been
Overwhelming evidence exists that eviction lawsuits and judgments of possession are vastly more common in Virginia and Richmond than almost any other state or city. I remain bewildered by the “head in the sands” approach of diminishing or denying the eviction problem. The only thing anyone could conceivably hope to accomplish by attacking data is to minimize an eviction crisis which plainly exists and needs multiple solutions.
Marty Wegbreit is director of litigation for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society.There are currently no comments highlighted.