Richmond ranks No.2 nationally in displacing people from their homes and apartments by eviction

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 4/13/2018, 7:20 a.m.
Marcel Slag has been fighting evictions for 28 years as a lawyer with Central Virginia Legal Aid and its now ...

Marcel Slag has been fighting evictions for 28 years as a lawyer with Central Virginia Legal Aid and its now independent Justice Center.

But for him, it’s like sweeping against the tide.

“It doesn’t make a dent,” he said. “It just seems to get worse.”

He offered his comments Wednesday in the wake of a new study that ranks Richmond as No. 2 in the United States among large-size cities when it comes to evictions. North Charleston, S.C., holds the No. 1 ranking.

Four other Virginia cities are in the top 10, according to the study — Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Chesapeake.

Mr. Slag and others already knew that evictions were a huge problem in Richmond based on their experience in the often clogged Richmond General District Court’s Civil Division, where landlords routinely go to seek approval to evict tenants from their homes and apartments. The study, conducted by sociologist Matthew Desmond and the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, quantified the situation.

The study provides data on a horrific problem that hammers the poor, with low-income African-Americans among those who are disproportionately affected.

Dr. Desmond’s lab collected tens of millions of court records to provide the first comprehensive look at evictions, a subject the federal government and most states have ignored.

“The breadth and depth of America’s eviction epidemic — and its data trail —requires wider attention,” according to Dr. Desmond, who won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for his book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” a look at evictions in Milwaukee.

According to the 2016 data his team gleaned from 900,000 eviction records, 5,800 tenant households were evicted in Richmond that year. That represented 11.4 percent of such households, or one of every nine households paying rent.

It could have been worse. The data shows that one in five tenant households in the city were threatened with the loss of the roof over their heads in 2016, primarily for missing a rent payment but also for a host of alleged violations of their leases.

Richmond was just barely ahead of Hampton, Newport News and Norfolk, where evictions top 10 percent of renting households. It was far worse in North Charleston, where one in six renting households were evicted in 2016, or 16.5 percent.

“The information in the study is distressing,” Reginald Gordon, director of the Richmond’s anti-poverty agency, the Office of Community Wealth Building, stated Wednesday in response to a Free Press query.

“The eviction rate in Richmond and other cities in Virginia is a prime example of a systemic or structural policy of inequity embedded in state law that has a debilitating impact on the ability of many members of the community to reach economic stability,” he stated.

“It not uncommon to hear stories of people working two jobs in Richmond, yet they still need around $750 to catch up on one month of rent in order to maintain their housing and avoid eviction,” he noted.  

“Once evicted,” he continued, “that family falls further into financial distress, and it might take years for them to regain any financial momentum,” a key issue that is a main focus for his office in seeking to help people train for and secure employment that pays a living wage.