John, a college lecturer with a PhD, was viciously assaulted and left with a traumatic brain injury. When he woke up from months in a coma, John had lost his ability to walk independently, to read, and to write – and he had also lost his home, which had been foreclosed while he was unconscious. He found a privately-owned housing complex for the disabled, but his cognitive deficits meant he couldn’t remember to pay rent. Lawyers from Connecticut Legal Services met John two days before his scheduled eviction.
John’s case is far from unique. New data shows that eviction is an epidemic in Connecticut.
Every year, CLS works with vulnerable people like John in hundreds of eviction cases – cases where a landlord seeks to expel tenants. So we’ve long known that Connecticut had an eviction problem.
But it took a new website launched in April by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which gathered data on every eviction in the United States from 2000 through 2016, to put the problem in proper context.
Three Connecticut cities – Waterbury, at number 22; Hartford, number 29, and Bridgeport, number 39 – are among the 50 American cities that evict tenants at the highest rates. In Bridgeport, 4.36 households are evicted every day. For every 100 tenants Waterbury, more than 6 are evicted every year. All told, 13,760 households were evicted in Connecticut in 2016, well worse than the national per capita average.
Evictions usually happen when a tenant doesn’t pay rent on time. But they can happen for any number of reasons: In one case, our lawyers defended an elderly couple who were targeted for eviction because their walking aids were deemed a “nuisance.”
If we’re willing to treat – or at least talk about – homelessness as the crisis that it is, we should recognize eviction as a crisis, too. Eviction matters because children need safe, stable homes. It matters when elderly and disabled people – and, for that matter, young and able-bodied people – are put out on the street. Being evicted often means losing your community, your school, your job, and your possessions, which are summarily packed up and taken to city storage. In other words, as the Eviction Lab’s website puts it: Eviction is not just a condition of poverty, it’s a cause.
Fortunately, though, there are solutions. It’s true that eviction is worst in Connecticut’s centers of entrenched urban poverty – but it’s not an inevitable part of urban poverty.
In fact, the Eviction Lab data shows that no other state in the northeast has any cities on the top-50 list of most frequent evictors. Springfield, MA, is almost exactly the same size as Bridgeport, with a higher poverty rate – and an eviction rate less than half of Bridgeport’s. Ditto for Lowell, MA – the same size as Waterbury, with fewer than half the evictions.
Instead of being inevitable, eviction is the result of our policy choices. That means we can fix it by making better choices.
To address the most important driver of eviction – the simple inability to pay high rents – we need to address the lack of affordable housing in Connecticut.
We also need to double-down on our investment on legal services lawyers, so that vulnerable people facing eviction have advocates to find fair solutions to landlord-tenant disputes.
That’s what helped John. His lawyers stopped the eviction while they worked with his landlord and his doctors to set up arrangements to accommodate his disability and ensure prompt payment.
Unlike thousands of people across Connecticut every year, John kept his apartment. So, even if his story isn’t unique, he isn’t typical either – happily for him, but tragically for our state’s most vulnerable families and the health of our communities. We can do better.