A MacArthur Foundation “How Housing Matters” (pdf) study reveals that while black men face alarmingly high incarceration rates, black women are disproportionately evicted from their homes.
According to the study, in any given year, approximately 16,000 adults and children are evicted in Milwaukee from approximately 6,000 housing units—that equates to 16 households evicted every day.
These startling statistics account only for court-ordered evictions and do not even touch on coercive tactics like paying unwanted tenants to vacate, housing condemnations and landlord foreclosures.
The brief was based on a recent study in Wisconsin, which followed 11 families through a string of evictions, analyzed 29,960 eviction records in Milwaukee County between 2003 and 2007, and conducted 251 on-site surveys at Milwaukee’s eviction court in January and February 2011. It offers a deep analysis of how evictions sets in motion a chain reaction that exasperates the well-being of already struggling, poor families.
Of the eviction-court survey population, which was 74 percent black, the majority paid 50 percent of their incomes for rent, with one-third using 80 percent of their incomes for rent, according to the study.
The study that shows those who are cast out from their homes are disproportionately women from black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
Why are these women more likely to be evicted?
The study explains that there are a number of factors at play, including lower wages, living paycheck to paycheck and primary child-rearing responsibilities. Beyond the added cost of larger rental units, children can cause landlords to face state scrutiny for issues such as lead poisoning or be reported by child protective services if the home poses a health-code violation. Also, women often underreport unsafe or unsanitary living conditions in deteriorated housing, especially when shared with an abusive partner who may not be on the lease.
One factor that is significant and rarely discussed is gender power dynamics between mostly male landlords and female tenants. The fieldwork illustrates how women typically adopt a nonconfrontational and less proactive approach with their landlords when struggling to pay their rent—a tactic that often backfires.
For example, the study points to Larraine, who “ducked and dodged” her landlord after receiving an eviction notice. She explained to the researcher, “I couldn’t deal with it. I was terrified by it, just terrified.”
The study’s research showed that men tend to approach their landlords directly when they fall behind on their rent payments. Sometimes that encounter may dissolve into a shouting match; other times, it may involve the male tenant offering to do some maintenance work to cover his debts. Either way, men benefit more from their assertiveness.
According to the study, for many low-income black women, a single eviction can leave an indelible mark with a lasting effect. Many landlords will refuse to rent to someone who has been previously evicted, and an eviction can bar a person from qualifying for affordable-housing programs. In addition to being a loss of a home, an eviction often is accompanied by a loss of possessions, leading to an endless cycle of bouncing from one problematic living situation to another.
Currently, even though many people are one paycheck away from being ousted from their home, only 1 in 4 households that qualify for housing assistance actually receives it, the study explains.
The study points to policy measures—including the stopgap designation of emergency funds for financially struggling families, which can prevent them from winding up in an eviction court in the first place, and, more important, making affordable housing more widely available—as keys to reeling in this rampant problem.
In low-income, inner-city neighborhoods, mirror processes are fueling a system steeped in economic inequality: eviction and conviction, the study reveals.
According to the study, “Poor black men are locked up while poor black women are locked out.”
Read more at the MacArthur Foundation (pdf).