Black Women Evicted At Higher Rates
LYNN NEARY, host:
Im Lynn Neary and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.
Coming up, the affect of the historically high foreclosure rate on American family life, but first, we focus on another element of the housing crisis: how African-American women may be especially vulnerable to evictions. The New York Times, last week, reported a new data about evictions in Milwaukee. They found that women in black neighborhoods were twice as likely to be evicted as male tenants. And black women suffered 40 percent of evictions in the city, even though they make up just 13 percent of the tenants. Joining us now to discuss the topic is Matthew Desmond. He is the University of Wisconsin sociologist whose research on evictions in Milwaukee formed the basis of the report. And also with us is Clarissa Adams. She's one of the people Desmond profiled in his research. She joins us from her home in Milwaukee, and welcome to both of you.
Ms. CLARISSA ADAMS: Thank you for having us.
Mr. MATTHEW DESMOND (Sociologist, University of Wisconsin): Thank you for having us.
NEARY: So, Matthew, before we get into the full discussion, maybe you can explain why its so difficult to find information about evictions in anyone city or in the nation as a whole?
Mr. DESMOND: National data on evictions arent collected, although national data on foreclosures are. And so if anyone wants to, kind of, get to know any statistical research about evictions, they have to really dig in the annals of legal records. And evictions takes place in small claims court and often those records arent as much carefully kept as records that take place in criminal courts are.
NEARY: So, how did you go about your study, and I guess, you had to dig pretty deep then, it seems like youre saying?
Mr. DESMOND: Well, there are few parts of the study. One was an analysis of legal court order evictions that took place in Milwaukee from 2003 to 2007. Another arm of the study was kind of the old-fashioned anthropological way, where I picked up my bags and moved to Milwaukee and I lived in a too poor neighborhood in the city and got to know a lot of families going through an eviction, as well as the landlords doing the evicting.
NEARY: One of the things that you turned up was the fact that there is a big discrepancy between the number of women evicted in black neighborhoods as opposed to men. Why is that? What was the explanation for that?
Mr. DESMOND: There are several reasons. One is that, in intercity black communities, women are disproportionately represented at low rate service sector. And therefore are able to have income documentation necessary to sign a lease. That income can also come from the form of public assistance check. But low wages and welfare stipends have remained relatively stagnant. Over the last 10 years, well, the cost of housing has increased by historic proportions. So, just a quick example: in 1997, the fair market rent for just one bedroom in Milwaukee, was $466. In 2008, it was $665. Now, given that, the welfare payment in the city hasnt increased at all. Its been $673 the whole time. What were seeing is that even in high poverty neighborhoods, the average cost of renting is quickly approaching the total income of welfare recipients and low wage workers.
NEARY: Yeah. And just before I turn to Clarissa, just one quick clarification. It seems to me what youre saying is that the women are able to sign the leases. The women have the either the income from a job or from welfare to sign a lease whereas the men dont.
Mr. DESMOND: Right. I mean, in low income African-American communities, you have high rates of male unemployment and high rates of men that have contacts with the criminal justice system. And so, what we might be seeing in the eviction records, are many women might be affected the same way by eviction, but women bear disproportionate consequence, which is the mark or the blemish of eviction on their record.
NEARY: Clarissa, let me turn to you now, and I understand youve been evicted four times in the last decade. Well, what led to those evictions? What happened?
Ms. ADAMS: Its mainly job loss. I guess, I could also include mismanaging of money. But the main thing is loss of jobs. I'd rather work, but like you just said, I mean, I think 73 a month doesnt do much. So, I was it was just a part-time job, temporary employment, which will also - qualified me for unemployment benefit. So, I managed what I can.
NEARY: And you make the kind of salary that if you lose your job, there is nothing extra there, there is no fat there. So, if you lose your job, you cant pay your rent, youre saying.
Ms. ADAMS: Basically.
NEARY: Yeah. Just one other question for you before I go back to Matthew. Of course, that when you you said also financial mismanagement. If you look back on it now, is there anything you think you could have done differently that might have changed things?
Ms. ADAMS: Saved a lot more, and just been a bit more stricter on saving, you know. Having daughters in school they're athletes, you know, have student fees, athletic fees, you know, there are other things that I have to put into my budget. And some things are sacrificed for other things.
NEARY: If youre just joining us now, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Im Lynn Neary and we are talking about the impact of evictions on poor black women in one American city. Our guests are Milwaukee resident Clarissa Adams, and University of Wisconsin sociologist, Matthew Desmond. Matthew, you studied evictions in both white and black neighborhoods in Milwaukee. What were the differences between what happened to poor black families and poor white families facing eviction?
Mr. DESMOND: One of the differences is that many times families in poor white communities have access to resources within their networks, that is they had a sister that went to college, maybe, or mom who owns a house. And because of the kind of historical legacies of racial discrimination in America, many African-American families didnt have access to such resource-laden networks. A similarity, though, was interesting - evicted families in both white and black communities avoided the African-American inner city, and neither of them wanted to be there.
These are renters that are in the desperate situation. And its interesting, because there is a thought out there that segregation is somehow voluntary or chosen. But this is not what I saw even in the city of most renters. The difference though, of course, is that black families need a level of housing discrimination in non-black areas that the white families dont. And so, although white families kind of basically block off a huge swarth of the city as a non negotiable one, not going to live there, they do have access to housing outside of those areas or many times because of discrimination on the account of landlords, African-American families do not.
NEARY: Just to conclude, Matthew, what kinds of change do you think need to happen for these kinds of disparities to disappear and I mean changes on both perhaps on the part of the tenant as well as landlords.
Mr. DESMOND: Well, Clarissa was being very humble by thinking about her personal decisions. But its down to a fact that, you know, people like Clarissa are paying 80 to 90 percent of their income towards landlords. They have no wiggle room. Their one sick child or one accident away from eviction. And weve reached a kind of unreasonable point in inner cities today, where families dont have access to the public housing or rental assistance. And we should bear in mind this is the majority of low income families, not the exception. That these families simply cant afford to live by in the city today and so its something (unintelligible). Now, how exactly we do that is the billion dollar question. But I think the first good step is to put housing back on the national agenda. Not housing is a financial issue which we hear about all the time. Housing is a social issue, how we live and where we live.
NEARY: And Clarissa, I know you lost your job in the fall. Youre looking for a new one now. Have you begun talking with your current landlord trying to work something out to assure that you wont get evicted again?
Ms. ADAMS: Yes. When we went to court, we worked out a stipulation, because even though I lost my job, my unemployment was actually on hold. So, I went through the hearing and I won the hearing. Now I've got my back pay, taxes were filed and everything. So, we were able to work out a stipulation to where caught up, stay ahead, and to help me remain where I live right now.
NEARY: So, so far, youre going to be able to stay where you are now.
Ms. ADAMS: I will be able to stay where Im right now, yes mam.
NEARY: Thats great. Well, good luck to you then.
Ms. ADAMS: Thank you very much.
NEARY: Clarissa Adams shared her experience with eviction with Matthew Desmond, who is a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin and he joined us from member station WHA in Madison, Wisconsin. Clarissa joined us by phone from her home in Milwaukee. Thanks to both of you again for being us.
Ms. ADAMS: Thank you
Mr. DESMOND: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.