Those Tenant-Eviction Stats Are Valid

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.

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8 responses to “Those Tenant-Eviction Stats Are Valid

  1. If something is wrong what is the premise? Does the data indicate that the tenants 1.)Have paid their rent, but the landlord has filed a fraudulent claim , 2.) Are not obligated to pay their rent, per their contract, or 3.) That they are only being evicted because of their skin color?
    What does the comparison to other black cities populations have to do with anything? Is the author indicating that skin color has a direct causation to whether or not rent can/ will be paid? Is there a statistical control for pigmentation? I find that to be very confusing and it may demonstrate a borderline implicit bias and upholds painful stereotypes.
    Again I point to what Steve said the other day about problems with schools. Here we potentially have an issue with people becoming homeless. Not black people becoming homeless.

  2. Jackson, MS … 1980 population: 202,895; 2018 population: 164,422

    Baton Rouge, LA .. 1980 population: 220,349; 2018 population: 221,599

    Dayton, OH … 1980 population: 193,536; 2018 population: 140,640

    Durham, NC … 1980 population: 101,149; 2018 population: 274,291

    Richmond, VA … 1980 population: 219,214; 2018 population: 228,783

    Jackson, MS … median household income – $30,414
    Baton Rough, LA … median household income – $30,368
    Dayton, OH … median household income … $27,523
    Richmond, VA … median household income … $31,121
    Durham, NC … median household income … $47,394

    Durham is a hyper-growth technology-centric city and does not belong on the list of cities to compare with Richmond.

    Jackson and Dayton are hemorrhaging population. They make for poor comparisons with Richmond.

    That leaves Baton Rouge.

    Chesapeake has been growing like a weed and has the highest median household income on the list. It’s also 29.8% African-American compared to 50+% in Richmond.

    Virginia does have a high eviction rate for cities in the southeastern part of the state. However, I’m not so sure that you can blame those eviction rates on the city/county split or black/white. My first thought would be to look at gentrification. When wealthier people move in landlords know they can get higher prices and I’d guess there’s far less room for negotiation of late lease payments. Shrinking cities like Dayton must have more housing stock than demand so renters have more control. My next thought would be concentrations of poverty and wealth. Why are none of NoVa’s cities (or Southwest Virginia’s cities) on the list?

  3. Gentrification of existing housing is definitely a factor in Richmond, but this is countered somewhat by the expansion of residential units in formerly abandoned or warehouse space. I do not understand why this is a racial issue at all. This is an economic issue – people are not paying their rent, and it is not economically sound to leave nonpaying tenants in a property, especially as the overhead on these units rises. Without actually pulling the numbers, I expect that a good percentage of these units with evicted tenants have been bought by corporations who have no personal connection to the tenant, probably have no idea of their skin color, and care only about their bottom line. While I agree that family instability and homelessness is a problem, I do not see why this is a landlord’s problem. Spinning the statistics to make the landlords appear racist pours gas on the race card fire for absolutely no reason at all. Address the housing concerns with the Housing Authority and the apparent unemployment concerns with Economic Development. Richmond’s public school system ranks poorly, improving education would certainly improve employablility and the resulting capability of paying rent. Looking at numbers out of context is for people with agendas.

    • I agree that nobody has proven racism to be the leading factor in Virginia’s high eviction rates. However, many have tried to play the race card here. The harder question is … if not racism than what? It seems clear that a number of Virginia cities have some of the highest eviction rates in the country. Why? If this is an economic issue why is it so concentrated in southeastern Virginia?

  4. Gentrification may be a cause but then you’d have to provide similar data to correlate it….

    “D.C. has the highest ‘intensity’ of gentrification of any U.S. city, study says
    More than 20,000 African American residents were displaced from low-income neighborhoods from 2000 to 2013, researchers say.”

    “Cities with the highest levels of black displacement between 2000 and 2010 were concentrated in the South, with nine out of 16 cities with high levels of black displacement located there (Figure 6). Richmond, Charlottesville, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans had the highest percentages of black displacement at the tract level (Figure 6). While Richmond and Charlottesville had moderate levels of gentrification, at least half of the gentrifying tracts in those cities also experienced displacement.”

    https://beta.washingtonpost.com/transportation/2019/03/19/study-dc-has-had-highest-intensity-gentrification-any-us-city/

    not sure the theory holds…….

    • You’re on the right track. Even the city level is too high a level. Many of the displaced in Washington DC were longtime homeowners rather than renters. DC is still a very segregated city. Until gentrification comes to the true inner city I’m not sure you’ll see a high eviction rate. I also believe that the DC City Council goes to great lengths to protect poor renters. Why this wouldn’t be true in Richmond is a mystery to me. I guess when you have state and local politicians who can take unlimited campaign contributions and then use those contributions for almost anything the “little guy” doesn’t get many breaks.

  5. re: ” While I agree that family instability and homelessness is a problem, I do not see why this is a landlord’s problem. Spinning the statistics to make the landlords appear racist pours gas on the race card fire for absolutely no reason at all. Address the housing concerns with the Housing Authority and the apparent unemployment concerns with Economic Development. Richmond’s public school system ranks poorly, improving education would certainly improve employablility and the resulting capability of paying rent. Looking at numbers out of context is for people with agendas.”

    I don’t disagree with this but still wonder why there are differences. Are laws/regulations different? do we see more evictions in places with higher unemployment?

    But in the end, if someone does not pay their rent – then the landlord (who is a person and/or an investor with their own money at risk) should be treated fairly – and if they are not – then the amount of rental properties available will reduce as less folks will want to invest their money in them – or you’ll get landlords who know how to navigate the rules to maximize their returns – at the expense of the tenants.

    Finally – a simple question for both those who tend to be “progressive” and those who identify themselves as Conservative:

    Is it the mission of City governance to deal with the issue of housing affordability for those who are “poor”, “working poor” ?

    What say Conservatives here? Is this a government issue or a free market issue?

  6. Virginia’s cities are oddities. First, they are not within counties. Second, annexation has been banned for decades. Third, they are generally tiny. The exceptions are the city county mergers of the 1960s such as Chesapeake.

    Here’s my theory …

    1. There’s no harmonization of zoning between city and surrounding county because the cities aren’t in surrounding counties. Over time, Virginia cities became isolated islands of poverty as people with money moved to the suburbs.

    2. The cities in southeastern Virginia are growing in population as people get older, don’t have children in school and relocate to walkable neighborhoods.

    3. The cities are gentrifying (see 2. above).

    4. The cities are generally very small. Land is relatively expensive and nobody wants to build affordable housing when they can build gentrification housing instead.

    5. Virginia is one of only four states allowing unlimited political contributions as well as having all-but-useless reporting requirements regarding how those contributions are spent by politicians. Large rental companies tend to make large contributions and prosper while smaller landlords (i.e. Mom & Pop rental companies) tend not to prosper. The large rental corporations have automated the eviction process and don’t know the renters. In a city with a rising population and gentrification it’s in their interest to evict quickly. Our politicians have no intention of giving up the money flow coming from these large rental organizations.

    I suspect that if Bristol, Va started growing in population (instead of shrinking) you would see large landlords buy up rental properties and the eviction rate would rise.

    I doubt these large landlords even know what race their tenants are when the press the “evict button”.

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