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Epidemic of Evictions: The Root of Poverty

TRANSCRIPT (AMBI: Housing court Crowd) PRATT 1: It’s a Tuesday morning in the hallways of the Bronx Housing Civil Court. It’s full of hundreds of people, many overdue on rent. Landlord attorneys shout tenant’s names and try to broker deals before seeing a judge. So what’s it like to be sued for eviction? DILLARD 1: It was a nightmare. PRATT 2: Back in 2012 Randy Dillard was 57 and says he couldn’t work because of his health. He was on Section 8 – low-income rental assistance. Dillard says his landlord stopped making repairs. There was no heat and he kept smelling gas. So the city stopped paying rent to try to force the landlord to fix things. Instead, the landlord tried to evict Dillard. DILLARD 3: Only thing that they told me that when I went in the housing court was that I have a court date, they did not tell me that I could adjourn it and get an attorney to represent me what my right my legal rights was. They didn’t tell me nothing. PRATT 3: Dillard is not alone. Every year there are around 200,000 similar lawsuits in New York City. And last year almost 22,000 evictions. Matt Desmond, a Harvard sociologist, says the number is too high. DESMOND 2: An eviction isn’t just a condition of poverty- it’s a cause of it. It makes your life much harder. It casts you into worse neighborhoods and worse housing. PRATT 4: Desmond spent a year living alongside low-income families in Milwaukee while also studying poverty and housing data across the US. His experience is now all in a book called “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,”. He says evictions are an epidemic. DESMOND 1: When I started this work I had no idea how frequent evictions were but we are evicting not in the 10s or 100s of thousands, but by the millions. PRATT 5: Desmond says a lack of public housing forces many low-income tenants into apartments they can’t afford- left with a seemingly impossible choice: feed their family or pay rent. So they often end up in housing court, where you might think they’d be appointed a lawyer… DESMOND 3: But that’s not true, we don’t extend the right to counsel to low income families that are facing eviction. In many housing courts around the country, 90% of landlords have attorneys and 90% of tenants don’t. PRATT 6: Mayor De Blasio’s says as part of his affordable housing plan, the city has spent close to 50 million dollars in the past few years to help low income tenants defend themselves in courts. But not everyone thinks that’s enough. Susanna Blankley is director of Bronx tenant organization Community Action for Safe Apartments. BLANKLEY 1 What we think is that increase funding for legal services increases the pool of people that get lucky it doesn’t institutionalize justice PRATT 7: The organization is responsible for bill at city council that if passed would make New York the first city in the country to mandate legal representation for low-income tenants. The bill has a lot of sponsors, but there’s an issue. It would be really expensive. An estimated $180 million to start. Advocates say there will be savings, because shelter and hospital use will go down. And Blankley believes, a right to counsel will help change rental culture in New York. BLANKLEY 2 Tenants would be more proactive and would fight for more for their rights, because they would be less fearful of retaliation knowing that if they are harassed they can call an attorney. PRATT 9: Remember Randy Dillard? He did get an attorney. A non-profit took his case. He says it helped him hold on to his apartment while his eviction trial waged for three years. DILLARD 4: At my age, I should be playing with my grandchildrens. I shouldn’t be in fear of how am I going to live, and where am I gonna be living at you know. PRATT 10: Dillard says he now has a new landlord who makes repairs. And Mayor De Blasio says he’ll increase funding next year so that over 100 thousand New York tenants receive legal services and eviction protection.

Tyler Pratt, Columbia Radio News


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