The rate of eviction filings in Massachusetts during the pandemic was nearly twice as high in communities of color as it was in predominantly white neighborhoods, according to a report released Tuesday by the housing justice coalition Homes for All Massachusetts.
In the year following the expiration of the state’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium in October 2020, 55 percent of eviction filings in the state’s six housing courts occurred in areas where the majority of residents identified as Black, Latino, Asian American/Pacific Islander, or Indigenous, even though only 42 percent of the state’s renters live in those neighborhoods. In particular, evictions were more common in places with larger percentages of Black and Latino renters, among households headed by single mothers, and in places with higher concentrations of corporate landlords.
These trends are longstanding, but the pandemic exacerbated them, according to the study, written by advocacy groups and an MIT researcher. Black and Latino communities in Massachusetts generally experienced higher rates of both COVID infection and job loss, relative to largely white neighborhoods. And that, coupled with elevated eviction rates, in a state with some of the nation’s highest housing costs, could add to an “unjust recovery that further entrenches racial, class, and gender injustices in Massachusetts,” according to the report.
Ramon Cruz, a 71-year-old taxi driver from Lynn, saw his income dry up during the pandemic when ridership plummeted and family members who had been helping him pay his rent lost their jobs. “I spent every single cent I had,” Cruz said in Spanish through a translator during a virtual event about the report on Tuesday. When Cruz found an eviction notice on his door, he said: “I almost wanted to throw myself from the fourth floor where I lived.” His next court date is in May.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the state closed housing courts and halted nearly all evictions until October. In the 12 months after the housing courts reopened, 21,768 eviction cases were filed according to the report — nearly 15,000 for nonpayment, 3,500 no-fault, and 3,200 for cause. Those numbers don’t include so-called informal evictions that happen outside the court system, which advocates say were likely elevated due to the moratorium.
In neighborhoods made up predominantly of people of color, landlords filed 30 evictions for every 1,000 renters, while majority-white neighborhoods had 18.5 evictions filed for every 1,000 renters, according to report coauthor Eric Robsky Huntley, a lecturer in urban science and planning at MIT.
In 16 cities and towns, eviction rates were more than 1.5 times higher in predominantly non-white neighborhoods than they were in largely white communities. In Randolph, there were 43.4 eviction filings per 1,000 renters in communities of color and no filings in white areas. The eviction filing rate in Norwood was more than six times higher in majority non-white neighborhoods. In Boston, eviction filings were 2.4 times more common in neighborhoods with more people of color.
The fact that such high disparities existed both in cities that are largely white and cities that are much more diverse shows that these racial inequities span the entire housing market, Huntley said.
Single mothers have traditionally had higher eviction rates, particularly low-income women of color, the report notes, but the disparity was likely exacerbated during the pandemic, when women left their jobs at higher rates than men due in large part to lack of access to child care.
Esmirna Cruz, a single mother of three who lives in Lawrence, was unemployed for nine months due to the pandemic. She applied for rental aid but didn’t receive any, she said, and was evicted through the courts four months ago. Finding a new apartment with an eviction on her record has been difficult, she said, and she and her children have been living with friends.
“I use my credit card to the extreme,” said Cruz (no relation to Ramon), who works at a factory. “Everything is so expensive. And my income is very low. I’m by myself. I’m on the streets. I’m homeless.”
The study also found that eviction rates were higher at rental units owned by absentee corporate landlords, and lower in places where landlords lived on site — a finding consistent with previous research.
The report’s authors pointed to decades-long history of mortgage discrimination — so-called redlining — in many of the neighborhoods that today have high eviction rates, and argued that evictions “are the product of power and property relationships between tenant, landlord, and finance which are structured by systemic racism — particularly anti-Black racism — sexism, and classism.”
In all, since the state’s eviction moratorium ended in October 2020, more than 33,000 cases have been filed in Massachusetts, the report notes. That number likely would have been much higher if not for $582 million in state and federal housing assistance provided to around 72,000 households since the beginning of the pandemic and various efforts by state housing courts to encourage mediation instead of eviction.
The federal funding is coming to an end, however, and the state will stop accepting new applications next month. Residents will still be able to apply for the state-funded Residential Assistance for Families in Transition program, known as RAFT, and other eviction prevention programs.
After trailing pre-pandemic levels for much of the last 18 months, evictions have ticked up in recent weeks, according to Massachusetts Trial Court data. They have been most prevalent in Bristol County, with 958 “executions” — the final step in the state’s judicial eviction process — since the moratorium was lifted in the fall of 2020, followed by Middlesex with 899, Worcester with 794, and Essex with 691.
With many people still struggling to make ends meet, Homes for All Massachusetts is calling for legislators to enact more eviction, foreclosure, and renter protections.
In October 2020, the Baker administration launched the Eviction Diversion Initiative, which is doling out some $800 million in federal money to struggling renters and homeowners and beefing up housing counseling and mediation programs that aim to keep people in their homes. The administration has also proposed another round of funding for the state RAFT program with enough money to provide $7,000 per household to another 15,000 households, and extending eviction protections if a tenant is applying for rental assistance.
Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.