More eviction filings seen in nonwhite neighborhoods, report finds

Posted on August 7th, 2022.

In the year since the state’s eviction moratorium lifted, landlords filed nearly twice as many eviction filings per renter in predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods than in mostly white areas, according to a report released Tuesday by housing advocates and MIT researchers.

The report by the Homes for All Massachusetts coalition analyzed 33,000 eviction filings between October 2020, when the state’s moratorium lapsed, and October 2021. It found racial and class-based disparities that already shaped the state’s housing crisis worsened during the pandemic.

Researchers found higher numbers of eviction filings not only in predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods, but among foreign-born renters and single mothers.

“The pandemic didn’t create these conditions. They pre-existed the pandemic and have been exacerbated by a public health crisis coupled with global economic distress, all compounded by a deeply rooted history of racism, exploitation and wealth extraction,” said La-Brina Almeida, a policy analyst at the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and one of the authors of the report. 

The report makes the case that corporate landlords — or “absentee, institutional” property owners — drove eviction filings, noting such owners are associated with higher rates of eviction. The report found that rental properties with live-in landlords saw lower filing rates.

Gregory Vasil, CEO of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board, defended the actions of landlords during the past couple of years, saying most have have taken steps to work with tenants and avoid moving forward with evictions.

“Since the eviction moratorium was lifted, GBREB and our 13,000-plus members have worked tirelessly to ensure that residents are able to keep roofs over their heads," Vasil said, adding that the organization partnered with community groups to educate residents about financial assistance programs, such as the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and Residential Assistance for Families in Transition Program.

"Eviction is a last resort no one wants to turn to," Vasil said.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, and the Democrat-controlled Legislature allowed the state's Covid-19 eviction moratorium to lapse after Oct. 17, triggering concerns that the housing courts would be swamped with tens of thousands of eviction filings. Baker announced $112 million in new funding at the time to cover the cost of mediation, assistance programs and new housing court hires to handle caseloads.

Both housing advocates and landlords, however, say rental assistance has been hard to come by due to bureaucratic hurdles and processing delays.

Researchers counted much fewer evictions than advocates initially expected in the one-year period, but advocates say the figures don't take into account "unofficial evictions" in which landlords coerced vulnerable tenants to leave without getting the courts involved.

Local disparities

Boston is infamous for having some of the highest rental rates in the nation in a state with a shortage of housing supply. Boston's median price for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,700, the third highest in the nation in a recent report by the rental platform Zumper Inc.

The city's landlords submitted 13 eviction filings for every 1,000 renters in the city’s predominantly nonwhite areas, much higher than in predominantly white areas, which saw 5.5 filings for every 1,000 renters, according to the report.

In other cities and towns, the disparities appear even wider. In Lawrence, for instance, landlords submitted nearly five times as many eviction filings in predominantly nonwhite areas compared to predominantly white areas, according to the report. Researchers counted 22 filings per 1,000 renters in nonwhite areas compared to 4.85 per 1,000 renters in white areas.

The highest contrast appeared in Randolph, a suburb where Black residents make up nearly half of the population. Researchers counted more than 43 filings for every 1,000 renters in nonwhite areas and none in white areas.

Paths forward

Advocates, lawmakers and landlords agree that the housing crisis began long before the pandemic and stems from racist housing policies and wealth inequality. The pandemic widened the disparities between those who can own or rent and those who cannot.

But landlords and housing advocates disagree over how to address those inequities. The housing advocacy groups that contributed to the report — City Life/Vida Urbana, Greater Boston Legal Services and others — have pushed for rent control, allowing tenants first dibs to buy their property if the landlord puts it up for sale, and raising funds for affordable housing production. Those policy changes are also recommended in the Homes for All Massachusetts report.

Some of those policies have gained traction around Boston. Most recently, the Boston City Council approved a home rule petition to impose a 2% tax on real estate sales of over $2 million earlier this month to raise affordable housing funds, though the proposal needs to be approved by the Legislature to become law.

MassLandlords Executive Director Doug Quattrochi acknowledged that racism has had a definite impact on housing in Massachusetts, but argues that the policy recommendations in the report are the wrong approach.

"The main concern is that this isn’t intended to help everybody," Quattrochi said of the report. "It’s intended to get a policy enacted, it’s intended to get rent control, right of first refusal and the transfer tax."

"There’s no doubt we’re in a serious housing crisis. Something has to give here," he added. "I would like to see it be zoning."

Baker's housing choice legislation, which was enacted under an economic development package last year, made zoning changes meant to spur housing production, but Quattrochi said more zoning changes are needed much sooner.

Andrea Park, one of the report's authors, said Baker's zoning changes was just one change needed boost housing production. She underscored that rent control, right of first refusal and investments are also needed, depending on each community's needs.

“Instead of one thing that’s going to create what we need, we need to be looking at all the options,” said Park, a housing staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. “We need all of these tools. The local piece is more about giving local options … rent stabilization may work in one city and not the other.”


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