Greensboro’s Eviction Crisis

Qualitative Interviews and Observations

Millions of people in the United States are evicted every year (Greenberg et al 2016). In North Carolina, the process by which a landlord can have a tenant removed from possession of a leased premises derives both from the common-law rights of a landlord and from current statutes enacted by our legislature. In Guilford County, we found that in 2015-2016 on average there are around 1,380 Summary Ejectment (or legal eviction filing) per month. In all, 16,390 cases were filed in 2015-2016. There is a human cost to evictions on tenants and their families. Eviction impacts a tenant’s future access to decent and affordable housing and has been shown to have negative impacts on physical and behavioral health outcomes. Evictions result in tenants accepting substandard housing on disparaging terms and increase the likelihood of homelessness.

Many cost-burdened renters in Guilford County are one car-repair, one hospitalization, or one high-utility bill away from being evicted from their homes. Data from the newly released Eviction Lab, the first national database of evictions, shows Greensboro as having the highest eviction rate of large cities in the state and the 7th highest eviction rate of large cities in the nation. In 2016, the eviction rate was 8.4 percent. This means that for every 100 renting households in Greensboro, 8.4 experienced an eviction. On any given day in 2016, around 13 families were evicted from their homes. By contrast, Winston-Salem and High Point have, respectively, around 8 and 3 evictions daily. In total, Greensboro households experienced 4,948 evictions in 2016. Unfortunately, these numbers for 2016 underestimate the number of evictions in Greensboro. All of the evictions tracked in Eviction Lab are formal evictions – all going through the long process of legally removing a tenant. As Matthew Desmond, the Principal Investigator at the Eviction Lab, writes informal evictions are perhaps more common than formal evictions. An informal eviction could be a landlord padlocking the door while the tenant is at work or a landlord threatening a tenant if they do not leave their home. Housing instability has been shown to affect health outcomes, children’s academic achievement, employment, and neighborhood vitality.

This report picks up from our previous which we examined court documents to ascertain the volume and dynamics of evictions in Greensboro. For this new project, a total of 231 telephone numbers were harvested from the data set of 1104 cases. Nearly half of these numbers (45.5%) were no longer in services a year later. Up to three calls were made to each of the remaining numbers. Voicemail was left indicating the UNCG was conducting a study and that we would be calling back or that they could call us. A third (34.2%) remained unreachable after multiple attempts. Of those who answered 10 (4.3% of all numbers) refused to be interviewed and 16 cases (6.9%) had only received a summary ejectment but had not received an eviction judgement. Many of these had remained in place after paying back rent due. Finally, 20 individuals (8.7%) completed a 10-15 minute telephone interview in which they described the outcomes of the eviction process.

The impact on individuals and families is clear: anxiety, depression, and mental health are impacted; families become even more precariously housed or homeless; and a year after facing eviction only a third are found to be living in safe, clean, and affordable housing. Eviction also impacts the lives of our youngest residents. School performance tends to decrease when students are in unstable housing situations. Parents who are working multiple jobs or worrying about eviction may not have the time to take an active role in their child’s education. One mother who was interviewed by CHCS reported that her daughter became anxious when her mother paid any bill late, not just the rent. In another interview, a different mother said that her daughter repeatedly asked her “where her room went.”

Read Part II in our series on eviction issues here: Eviction Interviews Report