Posts by Author: Rachel Dovey

Miami-Dade Mayor Plans to Move Forward with BRT

Metrorail/Trirail station at Miami International Airport. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez now seems to favor the more cost-efficient BRT over the rail project. (Photo by Phillip Pessar)

Miami-Dade County’s 16-years-in-the-making transit battle will come to a head next week.

On July 19, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez plans to ask the local transportation board to endorse building a bus rapid transit system along the South Dade busway, a two-lane highway already reserved for county buses, the Miami Herald reports. Gimenez began pushing for BRT along the busway last year, when he signed a $534-million proposal for a number of routes, as Next City reported at the time.

The problem: A transit tax approved by Miami-Dade voters in 2002 promised 90 miles of rail, not bus-tracks. So far, that tax has only resulted in a two-mile extension to the Miami International Airport, and many leaders, particularly suburban mayors in south Miami-Dade County, don’t want funds or space diverted for anything with rubber tires.

“Unless you’re talking about light rail, don’t bother coming to South Dade talking about bigger buses,” Kionne McGhee, a state representative, told the Herald in 2016. “There’s not a single pastor, a single mayor, a single city council member who is asking for bus. They’re all asking for rail.”

But although Gimenez made a number of campaign promises about rail, the price-tag of BRT eventually won him over. A January 2016 study found that upgrading service along the busway would cost $115 million, compared to $2.5 billion for light rail, as Jen Kinney wrote for Next City at the time. Currently, the mayor’s proposal for the entire bus network rests at $300 million, according to the Herald.

“We’ve been looking at this for some time,” Gimenez told members of a county transportation board in 2017. “And these numbers are real.”

The mayor also voiced concern about securing federal funding for rail, positing that BRT could more realistically be covered by state and local dollars. The county appears less concerned about that now; According to the Herald, if Gimenez secures the board’s backing, the plan “is to apply for federal funding within weeks, with hopes that Washington and Florida would agree to cover about two-thirds of the price tag in 2019.” Operations could start as soon as 2022.

But securing the board’s backing is still an “if.”

From the paper:

Miami-Dade is ready to conclude the South Dade SMART study by recommending rapid transit bus for that corridor. The transportation board could accept that recommendation, or vote to overrule the administration and select extending Metrorail for South Dade. The board could also delay the decision altogether and conclude the July 19 meeting without a decision.

Regardless, South County leaders are swearing they won’t forget that original 2002 promise of rail.


California’s Battle Over One Size Fits All Transit-Oriented Zoning

City Hall in Palo Alto, California. (Credit: Tomwsulcer)

Predictably, a number of affluent Bay Area suburbs (and the anti-development neighborhood groups that have come to characterize them in national news reports) are up-in-arms over SB 827, the now (in)famous legislation to fast-track development near transit stations across the state, introduced by State Senator Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) in January. But just as the bill’s many opponents can’t be stereotyped, the cities embracing its core tenets are often surprising.

Take Palo Alto, where the City Council last week approved a new ordinance that gives developers more freedom in what they can build — including buildings up to 50 feet with less conservative parking requirements — provided they build near transit. The so-called “Affordable Housing Combining District” applies to income-restricted multi-family housing projects located within a half-mile of a major transit stop, or a quarter mile of a transit corridor, according to the city’s website. “Affordable,” in this case, means residents making up to 120 percent of the area median income, or $102,000 for a two-person household.

Housing is one of Palo Alto City Council’s “dedicated priorities for 2018,” according to the city’s website, but the city’s record on the issue is less-than-stellar. Between 2007-2014, the city produced 1,602 total housing units, or just 37 percent of its Regional Housing Needs Allocation, according to the State Housing Element (the California law that guides long-range planning) for that period, according to Of those, only 290 units — or a mere 16 percent of the regional goal — were considered affordable. Other Santa Clara County cities, meanwhile, saw a surge in residential construction during the same time period, according to the site.

“This is a huge step forward for Palo Alto, which has not approved ANY affordable housing projects since 2009,” Palo Alto Forward board member Elaine Uang wrote in an email to the Bay Area News Group, soon after City Council approved the ordinance. “With the housing shortage at a critical point we really needed to take steps to create flexibility and a standard process for affordable housing applicants, and they really did that last night.”

The ordinance is not linked to SB 827, but it’s very similar, — and could perhaps be viewed as the city seeing the state writing on the wall. Weiner’s “Transit Zoning Bill” would essentially preempt local zoning standards with looser statewide standards around height, density and parking, if proposed developments are within a half-mile of a train or subway station. It’s a reaction to the state’s notoriously complicated city-by-city zoning laws, which are meant to provide local environmental oversight, but are so often co-opted by (primarily white, affluent) neighborhood groups that oppose multi-family housing with coded terms about “crime” and “community character.” SB 827 is being actively marketed as a way for local officials to tell those powerful groups that their hands are tied by the state.

But the opposition to SB 827 hasn’t been clear-cut. As the San Francisco Examiner has covered, a number of tenants groups in San Francisco — primarily composed of people of color — have come out against the law, fearing that it will create a development frenzy that will spur mass evictions.

And another law proposed by Weiner, SB 35, is being put to the test in Berkeley, and highlighting some of the dangers of fast-tracking development. SB 35, as Next City has covered, says that any municipality not meeting its regional housing requirements needs to allow “over-the-counter approval” for projects that fulfill certain zoning requirements. In Berkeley, a developer is currently invoking the new law to push through a project opposed by three separate Ohlone family bands, who claim the site as ancestral burial grounds.

“Our sacred sites were never given up by our families — not legally, nor in theory,” Vincent Medina, a spokesperson for the groups, recently told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Palo Alto ordinance doesn’t give developers a free pass — and still mandates that they go through a design review process overseen by the city. But it does give them more flexibility, and tweaks local zoning to look a lot more like what’s being proposed by the state.


Judge says DOJ Can’t Tie Police Funding to Immigration Enforcement

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, flanked by Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti during a press conference announcing the nationwide injunction. (AP Photo/Mike Balsamo)

A federal judge last week issued a permanent, nationwide ban against a new Justice Department policy favoring local police departments that cooperate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Los Angeles Times reports.

The ruling applies to the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which awards funding to municipal police departments trying to build trust with underserved communities rather than what what one researcher characterized in a 2014 Next City interview as “the reactive, call-driven system” that defines traditional policing. Los Angeles has regularly applied to the program and received funding in recent years for programs that include mentoring services in a number of Watts-area housing developments.

Last year, however, Attorney General Jeff Sessions changed how applications for the funds would be scored, with additional points going to police departments that assisted ICE agents in identifying undocumented inmates.

From the Times:

To get the point boost, police departments had to be willing to alert ICE 48 hours before releasing inmates who agents had targeted for deportation and were required to give ICE agents access to jail facilities so they could interview inmates and review records. Los Angeles, which refused to abide by the new rules, was not awarded any funds, while 80 [percent] of the departments that did receive money cooperated with ICE, court records show.

But Sessions’ new funding rules violated the separation of powers laid out in the constitution, Judge Manuel Real ruled last week. Tying funds to cooperation with ICE improperly forced local agents to participate in immigration enforcement — which is the job of the federal government — and “upset the constitutional balance between state and federal power by requiring state and local law enforcement to partner with federal authorities,” Real wrote in his decision.

“This is a complete victory,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, who challenged Sessions’ funding tweak in federal court last year, said during a press conference last week, as reported by the Times. “This is yet another dagger in the heart of the administration’s efforts to use federal funds as a weapon to make local jurisdictions complicit in its civil immigration enforcement policies.”

A Justice Department spokesperson, meanwhile, called the ruling “overbroad and inconsistent with the rule of law,” according to the paper.

Los Angeles’ sanctuary policies — which have been emulated by other California cities since President Trump took office — are primarily motivated by the fear that residents will stop reporting crimes because of their immigration status, as Next City has covered. Last month, Sessions announced that he would sue California over three new statewide sanctuary laws, which limit the ability of state employees in assisting ICE.

Real’s nationwide ruling is an obvious blow to Sessions — but it won’t retroactively award funding to COPS hopefuls denied funding last year, according to the Times. It could, however, give sanctuary cities an edge going forward.

Still, the federal program doesn’t exactly have a perfect record.

“Despite some well-documented successes, even proponents of community policing are hesitant to call the COPS program a sweeping success,” Christopher Moraff reported for Next City several years ago. “The … shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the response it elicited reflect the stark rift that continues to divide many urban law enforcement agencies from the constituents they are sworn to protect.”

Mike Brown, of course, has been followed by Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and Stephon Clark, among many others, and critics continue to caution that “community policing” can too easily become a feel-good buzzword.

“I’ve had police chiefs ask me what’s the minimum they can do to get this money,” Bruce Benson, who advises departments on establishing COP programs, told Moraff. “We’d have police departments host community picnics where they hand out hot dogs and soda to people and call it community policing, but once all those hot dogs are handed out, it’s back to traditional policing practices.”


Pittsburgh Unveils its Fair Housing Gameplan

(Photo by Dr. Cash via Flickr)

In 2013, Pittsburgh assembled a task force to assess barriers to fair housing and create recommendations for overcoming them. On Wednesday — the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act — the group unveiled a comprehensive series of draft recommendations, including increased legal assistance for renters facing eviction and inclusionary zoning.

“Today is an historic day for Pittsburgh and also for our nation,” said Carlos Torres, executive director of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The 15 proposals range from upping education and training around fair housing issues to zoning changes, like raising the city’s residential occupancy limit, to mandatory inclusionary zoning. In Pittsburgh, that nationwide buzz term would mean requiring developers building new housing to include a certain percentage of affordable units, according to the Post-Gazette.

In 2016, CityLab reported that Pittsburgh was considered one of the most affordable cities in the U.S. — but that “affordability” wasn’t equally distributed, and certainly didn’t apply to the 17,241 households earning less than 50 percent the city’s median income. And gentrification has hit the city hard. Like so many U.S. cities, redlining led to disinvestment in Pittsburgh neighborhoods housing people of color, and then around 2000, private equity investors began seeking out those same neighborhoods for flips and luxury developments. The East Liberty area is a prime example.

But mandating inclusionary zoning could be tricky. Mayor Bill Peduto said Wednesday that he had not yet seen the proposals, but told the Post-Gazette that any such measure would have “to be done at the [neighborhood] level,” and couldn’t be enacted city-wide.

“You have to work with what is in the legal purview of a property owner in the state of Pennsylvania,” he added.

And the legality of inclusionary zoning in Pittsburgh really depends on how such policy — and its goals — are framed, as has covered. While Pennsylvania (unlike, say, Georgia or Texas) doesn’t currently have any kind of preemption law around rent control or linkage fees, builders and developers in other states have tried to block inclusionary zoning ordinances as unlawful “exactions,” or requirements that local governments impose before approving a developer’s land-use permit.

“It would be very difficult for the city to prove in court that a developer’s new market-rate housing in the south side somehow has a direct effect on the problem of rising rents and lack of affordable units in Lawrenceville,” reports. “If there is no direct connection, then courts that view the policy as an exaction will likely find the requirement to build affordable units on-site or off-site to be unreasonable.”

In other words, the city, likely afraid of state-level legal action, is being cautious. In Philadelphia, a proposal to create a mandatory inclusionary housing policy last June was widely opposed by the Building Industry Association of Philadelphia (BIA) and pulled before it went up for a vote. The city eventually struck a compromise with local developers, and released a proposal yesterday featuring a 1-percent tax on construction costs and a set of new zoning bonuses to encourage, rather than mandate, more affordable units.


Denver Area Investors Want to Get Moving on Community Land Trust

Downtown Denver (Photo by Ian Freimuth on flickr)

A community land trust with the goal of acquiring 700 homes throughout the Denver area may be ready to move on to another Colorado city, Westworld reports.

In December, Elevation Community Land Trust approached the city in search of both single-family houses and condos. By then, the trust had already raised $24 million in private capital and was hopeful of acquiring another $23 million in contributions from local governments — Denver’s new $150 million dedicated housing fund looked like one promising source — as well as $11 million from private partners and donations.

But according to Westworld, discussions between the trust and the city have lagged in recent months, and Elevation’s backers aren’t sure where they fall in the city’s housing priorities anymore. The trust is now discussing its proposal with other municipalities, including Westminster, Aurora and Adams County, all of which are potentially willing to provide land and the additional dollars.

“I’m disappointed that it’s moving so slowly [with Denver],” Dave Younggren, CEO of Elevation partner Gary Community Investments told the news site. ”After we did the [December 7] presentation, we were anxious to move forward and thinking that it’d be a fairly accelerated process, but then the city had the realignment, with housing moved under the Office of Economic Development — that really slowed things down. Now we’re not quite sure where the process is.”

As Next City has covered, Denver is one of the fastest growing metros in the U.S. and officials estimated last year that the city needs at least 21,000 more affordable units to meet current demand. In 2016, the city passed its landmark plan of raising $150 million over 10 years for affordable housing (although some officials claim that figure isn’t nearly enough to meet regional demand). Other strategies pursued by city have included a rent “buy-down” program, in which the city would purchase empty high-end apartments and subsidize their rents for lower-income families, the creation of a new Office of Housing & Opportunities for People Everywhere, or HOPE for short, and a comprehensive plan prioritizing tenants’ rights and landlord regulations.

A community land trust, or CLT, would have fit into those plans by acquiring land through either a purchase or public transfer, and then leasing homes built on it to families or developers. Because the family or developer would need to purchase only the building (rather than the building plus the land), that home would likely be more affordable than its conventional counterpart.


Florida Cities Sue State Over Gun Preemption

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum defended his city against a state lawsuit over guns in public parks in 2017. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)

Florida’s gun laws are state preemption on steroids. Not only do they forbid cities and counties from passing firearms legislation — they also allow municipalities that do try to regulate where guns can be sold or carried (like, not in the public library) to be hit with up to $100,000 in fines and legal fees. And city or county officials who do try to pass such laws can be removed from office by the governor, personally sued and fined $5,000.

In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, cities began pushing back against the state mandate, which passed in 1987 but was given sharper teeth (with support from the NRA) in 2011. Now, 11 municipalities have announced a joint lawsuit against Tallahassee lawmakers, alleging that the preemption ban is unconstitutional, Orlando Weekly reports.

The original plaintiff cities included Weston, Miramar, Pompano Beach, Lauderhill, Miami Gardens, South Miami, Pinecrest, Cutler Bay, Miami Beach and Coral Gables. This week, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced his intention to join in, according to the paper. Their lawsuit alleges that penalties against local gun regulation infringe on free speech and conflict with the governor’s limited power to remove local officials from office.

“The punitive preemption law is an unconstitutional and unlawful effort to silence and oppressively punish local elected officials and the municipalities they represent, and it stands in the way of specific legislative steps that Plaintiffs seek to take to protect their cities from gun violence by prohibiting the sale or transfer of most large capacity magazines,” a complaint filed Tuesday states.

The cities’ proposed “legislative steps” vary, according to the Miami Herald. Mayor Dan Gelber of Miami Beach wants to keep guns out of City Hall. Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar wants the city’s new amphitheater to be a gun-free venue. Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli of Coral Gables wants to ban the sale of military-style rifles within city limits.

But state law — especially after those 2011 tweaks — undid even local laws around gun-use that had already passed. Measures banning guns in libraries and parks were overturned, according to Time. Local laws banning gunfire in dense urban areas, along with celebratory shots, also had to be scrapped.

As Next City has covered, Florida courts have shown some sympathy for cities that have clashed with the preemption law. Last year, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum successfully defended his city in a lawsuit brought by the state over ordinances banning guns in public parks (although Gillum’s get-out-of-jail argument was that the city was not actually enforcing those ordinances). At the time, the court hinted that the state provision about city officials being removed from office did, in fact, raise some constitutional questions.

Zooming out across the country, Ben Beachy and Miya Saika Chen of the Partnership for Working Families point out today in a Next City op-ed that state preemption follows a pattern of mostly white, male legislatures ignoring or overriding concerns of the women and people of color who are more likely to suffer harm because of states preempting local laws and regulations, such as those that would strengthen gun control.


Executive Order Pushing Work for Federal Assistance is Mostly For Show

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

On Tuesday — while Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before two senate panels dominated headlines — President Donald Trump quietly signed an executive order directing recipients of Medicaid, housing subsidies and food assistance to work or potentially lose their benefits.

The order, titled “Reducing Poverty in America,” directs the Secretaries of the Treasury, Agriculture, Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development, among others, to review their programs “that do not currently require work for receipt of benefits or services, and determine whether enforcement of a work requirement would be consistent with Federal law.”

The question, of course, is: Federal law according to whom? The order tells agencies to examine “policies and programs to ensure that they are consistent with principles that are central to the American spirit — work, free enterprise, and safeguarding human and economic resources,” and that any policies not “succeeding in those respects” should be “improved” or eliminated.

In some ways, it’s more bluster than substance, according to the New York Times. Many of the initiatives outlined have already been enacted. The Department of Health and Human Services, for example, has begun issuing waivers to Republican governors who want to mandate stricter work requirements for Medicaid recipients. And advocates for those services are quick to add that most able-bodied adults who are enrolled in those programs and can work, already do.

“It’s a little bit of a solution in search of a problem,” Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow with the Urban Institute, told the paper. “The administration is reflecting a larger narrative that many low-income individuals avoid work — but there’s just not a lot of data to support that position. Many of these people have significant barriers to working full time.”

“The president claims that work requirements and other burdens are needed to “promote economic mobility,” [but] these efforts will only leave more low income families without stable housing, making it harder for them to achieve financial stability,” National Low Income Housing Coalition President and CEO Diane Yentel wrote in a statement on the order. “These proposals are more about punishing low income people than helping them.”

Other analysts and advocates weighed in on Twitter.

As Next City has covered, 82 percent of U.S. households enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are either working, worked recently or are seeking work, according the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

What’s more, the idea that embedding work requirements into safety net programs reduces poverty is based on faulty data, according to LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for family income and support policy at CBPP. That claim goes back to just two studies of cash assistance welfare programs — in Portland and Riverside, California.

But, as Oscar Perry Abello reported for Next City in 2016 those two studies were merely two out of 11, and the other nine showed the opposite: The work mandate either barely increased the percentage of cash assistance for recipients who worked, didn’t increase it at all, or decreased it, in the case of Oklahoma City.

And the Trump administration’s oft-cited claim that federal spending on low-income Americans has reached record highs simply isn’t true. When the president released his “skinny budget” proposal last year, federal spending on low-income households was down to its historic average of 2 percent, as Next City reported in 2017.

Overall, according to the Times, the order has greater potential in its semantics than its policy proposals — it “tries to redefine ‘welfare’ to fit the catchall term Mr. Trump used in campaign speeches.”

From the paper:

The word “welfare” — politically loaded and often pejorative, especially among the president’s conservative supporters — has historically been used to describe cash assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

The Trump administration wants to change the lexicon. On Tuesday, [Andrew Bremberg, the president’s domestic policy chief] sought to stretch the term to encompass food aid and Medicaid — programs even many conservative lawmakers view as a necessary safety net for families and individuals on the economic margins through no fault of their own.


Religious Freedom will Protect Sanctuary Church in Springfield

People in Boston protest President Donald Trump's travel restriction ban on seven Muslim-majority nations. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

President Trump has repeatedly marketed himself as a champion of religious freedom. But that same freedom could undermine the authority of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) where so-called Sanctuary Churches — along with other places of worship — are concerned.

Roughly two weeks ago, Gisella Collazo and her two children took refuge inside the South Congregational Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reports. Collazo emigrated from Peru in 2001 and married a US citizen in 2005. Her two children were born in the United States, but during a January check-in with immigration officials, she was told to return to Peru at the end of March. Instead, she went to the church.

According to the Globe, the city’s mayor was not happy — and threatened to strip the church of its tax-exempt status. He added that officials would “not stand for harboring and protecting” immigrants facing deportation.

The Springfield City Council disagreed, and unanimously voted Monday to bar city officials from “interfering with the religious freedoms” of churches and other places of worship, the paper reports.

“We’re really here because of the executive branch’s overreach in this subject,” Councilor Michael A. Fenton reportedly said. “No mayor passes any edict telling any church what to do, particularly as it relates to sanctuary.”

The mayor’s challenge — and the council’s unequivocal blow-back — don’t constitute a legal precedent. But they could become a reference point as more places of worship take to shielding immigrants.

Churches in Detroit and Phoenix, synagogues in New York and a mosque in Cincinnati have all made headlines in recent months for announcing their intentions to shelter immigrants from deportation. The idea is to be a more direct-action version of a sanctuary city — unlike a local police department, they don’t have data to withhold, but they can offer literal shelter. And while ICE agents technically can come into these religious spaces and arrest people, they usually won’t because of a “sensitive locations” policy created by former president Barack Obama in 2011.

And places of worship aren’t the only institutions offering sanctuary. As Next City has covered, a high school, LGBT center, salon and restaurant, among other facilities, recently painted their doors gold in a symbol of support toward local immigrant communities in Sacramento ahead of a visit to the city by Attorney General Sessions. Organizers of the Golden Doors Project provide supporters with kits showing them how to document and report ICE raids, learn about search and seizure laws and offer in-person assistance, along with cans of gold spray paint.

“It’s about opening the doors for people to know where there are safe havens, safe spaces for people to go for resources and to feel like they’re part of this community,” Dreamer and human rights activist Irvis Orozco told Next City. “We want to bring that message.”


Housing Preemption Is Back on the Table in Louisiana

A plaque in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood commemorates the Plessy v. Ferguson case, the first post-Reconstruction legal challenge to segregation. (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

Last summer, Louisiana lawmakers killed a preemption measure that would have limited city housing policy. SB 162 was approved by the Senate, but never made it past the House.

Now, senators are resurrecting a version of that failed policy. SB 462 would “forbid municipal and parish governments from requiring developers to set aside a certain number of low-income units in order to receive building permits for apartment, condo, single family and other housing projects,” the New Orleans Advocate reports. It was approved 26-11 on Monday, and now heads to the Louisiana House.

As Next City covered last year, that first preemption measure would have sidelined a plan by Mayor Mitch Landrieu (soon to be replaced by Mayor Elect LaToya Cantrell) to mandate that units for low-income residents be set aside in certain parts of the city. His proposal was a response to the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which required municipalities receiving funding from the agency to consider and mitigate structural racism and segregation (the Trump administration recently suspended the rule until 2020). As such, his administration recommended steps toward building integrated neighborhoods, rather than clustering subsidized units. Whether the policies he put in motion will survive the new city administration — as well as state law — remains to be seen.

Housing policy is emerging as yet another flashpoint in the preemption battle between blue city halls and red statehouses (along with paid sick leave, trans rights, plastic bag bans and soda taxes, to name just a few). Last spring, Texas legislators blocked Austin’s attempts to enact linkage fees. Wisconsin, Georgia and a handful of other states forbid cities from establishing rent control policies.

Landrieu’s preferred strategy, often referred to as “inclusionary zoning,” is particularly controversial. Most inclusionary programs are clustered in just three states — New Jersey, California and Massachusetts — where statewide laws or court decisions require them.

“There’s still no broad consensus around the degree to which the policies work,” contributor Jared Brey wrote for Next City in December. “Research suggests that they aren’t a great solution for housing the lowest-income tenants, and many people … argue that the policies can suppress residential development overall.”


What 80 Million Eviction Records Can Tell City Leaders

Demonstrators protesting against evictions in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Last year, the U.S. Census Bureau promised to start collecting better data on evictions. But policy-makers trying to stem the crisis in cities like New York, Philadelphia, D.C. and Baltimore still rely on a scatter-shot sampling of local figures, surveys and fuzzy national numbers.

But now there is The Eviction Lab, a new project spearheaded by Matthew Desmond, professor of sociology at Princeton and author of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Desmond’s research could give officials working to address the housing crisis better country-wide data — data they could use to compare city-by-city figures and measure which policies work.

The project is a compilation of about 80 million records related to eviction going back 18 years, including court records and numbers from LexisNexis Risk Solutions and American Information Research Services, Inc. Eviction documents contained information such as the defendant’s address, monetary judgment and case outcome; the team combined those details with demographic census data to “better picture of the areas in which these evictions are happening,” according to the project’s website.

The areas with the highest eviction rates aren’t necessarily the country’s most expensive regions, the New York Times recently noted in its coverage of Eviction Lab. The big cities with the highest rates of eviction include North Charleston, South Carolina; Richmond, Hampton and Newport News, all in Virginia; and Jackson, Mississippi. The number of evictions is rising throughout the Midwest as well, in states such as Michigan and Indiana.

(Courtesy of Eviction Lab) 

Several factors, including a legacy of racist policies culminating in state laws that favor landlords over tenants, have shaped Richmond’s high eviction rate of 11.44 percent (that’s 11.44 evictions filed for every 100 renters, compared with 2.34 for every 100 renters nationally). The Times notes in particular that Richmond is “in the Southeast, where the poverty rates are high and the minimum wage is low; it’s in Virginia, which lacks some tenant rights available in other states; and it’s a city where many poor African-Americans live in low-quality housing with limited means of escaping it.”

“This isn’t by happenstance — this is quite intentional,” Levar Stoney, Richmond’s mayor, recently told the Times. Virginia is a state that has favored property owners “since plantation days,” he said, adding that aid to poor residents is limited, and about a quarter of the city’s population is a car repair payment or hospital visit away from not being able to make the median gross rent of $896 a month.

As Next City has covered, eviction tends to disproportionately affect women of color with children. In Evicted, Desmond found that in Milwaukee, where he conducted most of his research for the book, 1 in 5 black women reported having been evicted as adults, compared to 1 in 12 Hispanic women and 1 in 15 white women. His research found that having children tripled the odds that a person would receive an eviction judgment.

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women,” he wrote. “Poor black men are locked up. Poor black women are locked out.”

Eviction Lab’s research can be viewed here.


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