A group of attorneys helping low-income residents battle on the front lines of the regional housing crisis have documented their efforts in the very first San Mateo County Eviction Report which highlights the recent increases and who it is affecting the most.
The report is but a small sampling of the number of tenants who’ve been displaced between 2012 and 2015, but its authors say it shows an unfortunate trend with the number of those being evicted increasing more than 300 percent.
The Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County and Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto teamed up to share data and write an analysis of 3,145 eviction cases handled by the two nonprofits over the course of just three years.
Some of the report’s highlights include identifying Redwood City as a hotbed for no-cause evictions, a disproportionate number of minorities are being displaced and that the majority are households with children.
“This report verifies the anecdotal data we’ve been hearing for the last several years that in San Mateo County we indeed have an eviction crisis and displacement crisis. I hope this data will be useful to policy makers to help folks understand the scale and scope of the problem and as such, inform decision making and motivate our decision makers, our policy makers and other important stakeholders to tackle the crisis head on,” said Daniel Saver, a housing attorney with CLSEPA.
Hearing the personal stories from those facing eviction, such as during public forums or council meetings, can be moving. But it’s important to provide hard data to cities or county officials who are hoping to make a difference, particularly when working against a defensive market, said Shirley Gibson, directing attorney with Legal Aid.
“Hearing about how someone suffered through an eviction process is compelling. But if you’re going to create policy around these things; the who’s and the why and the how is important. And there’s not a lot of public information that can be aggregated to get your mind around it,” Gibson said.
But based on this first-of-its-kind data in the county, families and minorities are being disproportionately affected. For example, 70 percent of those who were evicted in fiscal year 2014-15 were families with children. That same year, Hispanic or Latino tenants made up 49 percent of those evicted without cause, but only account for 25 percent of the population. Similarly, black residents made up 21.4 percent of those evicted but only account for 2.5 percent of the population, according to the study. Gibson and Saver made particular note that these are people who were evicted for no cause, meaning they weren’t told to leave for failing to pay rent or being a nuisance.
“The market is making some race and ethnicity calls that don’t have to do with tenant behavior. … We were also surprised at the high proportion of households with kids. I don’t think any school teacher would be surprised by it. We hear time and again about the mobility of kids from school to school and district to district,” Gibson said. “It’s my guess, it may be a tenancy profiling phenomenon because landlords have such broad discretion in terms of who they chose to rent to.”
For cities with the highest rate of no-cause evictions, Redwood City takes the lead followed by Daly City, San Mateo, South San Francisco and East Palo Alto, according to the report.
Perhaps not surprising, the price of the average two-bedroom apartment increased 60 percent over the last five years with the price hitting $3,300 earlier this year, according to the study. The hot housing market has led to nearly 60 percent of the county’s workforce commuting from other areas, exacerbating pollution and traffic congestion, according to the study.
Being evicted is also shown to make people more likely to lose their jobs and can have a negative impact on health.
The report is considered to be representative of just a small sampling of the actual eviction rates families are experiencing throughout the county, Gibson said. Based on court data, the nonprofits only handle about 60 percent of those who may end up in litigation and there’s countless others who may never seek assistance or can afford to hire private attorneys, Gibson said.
Overall, they estimate their report accounts for just 10 percent of the actual number of those facing displacement. But perhaps one of the most important aspects of the report is that it provides hard data — something people often seek but that’s never been compiled in the county to date, Gibson said.
“We thought our case data really tells a lot of the story. It doesn’t give the whole story of every person who’s been evicted in the county, but it’s a significant enough sample size. And we think it really does give some picture of who’s being evicted and why,” Gibson said.
They’re hoping this landmark report will encourage more stakeholders, governments or nonprofits to cooperate in gathering more inclusive data.
Prompting policy and informing action
What the report does show is that a disproportionate number of residents who are low income, of minority heritage or have children are being evicted. Those are facts that legally requires the county and cities to act, Gibson said.
Per federal regulations, governments must work to combat known housing discrimination and the hope is this type of data will spawn action, according to Gibson and Saver.
“One of the major takeaways from the data that we found in this report is that the eviction crisis has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities, people of color, low-income families and families with children. And some of those disproportionate impacts have fair housing implications,” Saver said.
The county is about to start working on a federally-mandated U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study known as the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing assessment. In the coming months, the nonprofits plan to present this information and participate in the planning process.
“If we see there’s an ethnicity breakdown that there’s a certain population that’s being impacted, there’s actually an obligation on the county and cities to do something about it. We can’t just shrug and say, ‘that’s capitalism,’” Gibson said. “I think it’s impossible to have this kind of data in front of you and say as a government, ‘we have no obligation to do anything about this.’”
Those interested in learning more about the report are invited to attend a reception and briefing held by Legal Aid and CLSEPA from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 15 at the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits, 330 Twin Dolphin Drive, Redwood City. Visit legalaidsmc.org/eviction_report_2016.html for more information or to read the report.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106