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Report: Blacks, Latinos hit hard by evictions

Researchers find disproportionate impact on Black renters in Boston

Avery Bleichfeld

A report released Tuesday by the housing activist group City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU) found that evictions in Boston during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic had an undue impact in communities of color.

Helen “Homefries” Matthews, communications director for CLVU, said at a virtual press conference Tuesday that evictions are a major challenge in Boston, especially considering the pandemic.

“Evictions are violent, devastating and dangerous in our communities, but nonetheless, well over 3,000 evictions have been filed in Boston during the pandemic and over 20,000 evictions have been filed in Massachusetts during the pandemic,” Matthews said.

The report, which was led by recent MIT graduate Ben Walker, found that about 70% of Boston evictions that occurred during the first year of the pandemic occurred in communities where Black and Brown residents constitute the majority of renters, despite those same communities containing 43% of the city’s rental housing.

The CLVU report also found that Black communities were hit especially hard compared to Boston’s white neighborhoods, with 51% of eviction filings in the city occurring in census tracts where the number of Black residents is in the top quarter of all tracts in Boston; these areas contain 27% of Boston’s rental housing.

In contrast, census tracts where the number of white residents was in the top quarter of all tracts saw 22% of evictions.

“The implication is clear: When politicians stripped away tenant protections, this choice exposed Black and brown people to needless precarity, illness and potentially death,” Walker said. “Now the pandemic, as we know, is far from over. Thousands of renters still sit on the edge of potential eviction, a crisis deferred through incremental policy, as these policies are left to expire or go underutilized.”

Arlyce Porcher, a resident of Georgetowne Homes in Hyde Park, said she and other residents in her apartment building felt the negative effects of the threat of eviction when the real estate firm Beacon Communities, which operates Georgetowne Homes, issued mass evictions. According to the report, Beacon Communities issued more than 100 evictions in March 2021.

“A lot of us were struggling and suffering with anxiety, not understanding because we could not get through to management to talk about our individual cases,” Porcher said.

Ana Fajardo, an East Boston resident, said her landlord tried to evict her and her family when he wanted to sell the property. She said that facing eviction during a public health crisis was especially daunting.

“During a pandemic, how are we going to leave, with our kids, to go to the streets?” Fajardo said through an interpreter at the conference.

Noemi Rodriguez, who attended the conference Tuesday, said the issue of evictions is intertwined with the impact of gentrification in Boston.

“This is something that is impacting not only new families, but also families who have been fighting for a long time, and something that is terrible is that in a system that is so racist, we are the most vulnerable with this so negative impact of the pandemic,” Rodriguez said.

Matthews and Walker said they see the results of the report as confirming the need for the COVID-19 Housing Equity bill, currently making its way through the state legislature.

Walker said the bill would take what he thinks are important steps in protecting renters, including requiring landlords to pursue rental assistance before filing an eviction, prohibiting evictions based on rent debt incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and pausing no-fault evictions for 12 months after the end of the Massachusetts state of emergency, which was terminated by Governor Charlie Baker in June.

He said he also sees the report as an indication that more action is needed in the long term to address the root causes of the virus’s disproportionate effect on Black and Brown communities. These actions could include instating rent control; encouraging tenant opportunities to purchase the buildings they live in when landlords put them up for sale; and implementing just cause ordinances, which would limit evictions brought for arbitrary and insubstantial reasons.

“We know that policy reforms aren’t a silver bullet; the pandemic’s effects will endure, and the pandemic is ongoing, so we also know it will take a real movement to uproot white supremacy and its deep legacy,” Walker said. “But, when thousands of Black and brown people face profound threats to their lives, it’s imperative to take immediate steps to keep people housed and to advance a powerful vision for shared flourishing.”

Walker said the report and its findings are a starting point, but the topics explored in it need further research.

The data used for the project was limited by the sources it came from. Walker said the COVID-19 data they had access to was often generalized, and the number of evictions filings they had data for was limited. As such, they could not assess other factors, beyond struggles with housing, that impacted communities with especially high rates of COVID-19 infections.

“What the report offers is a description of geographic overlap between race, eviction and COVID-19. These findings are suggestive and descriptive,” Walker said. “I feel like it’s the job of future research, future analysis, to identify strong correlations between race, eviction and COVID in Boston.”

The report had to lump some neighborhoods together, because of how the Boston Public Health Commission grouped COVID-19 infection numbers. For instance, Chinatown was grouped in with Beacon Hill and Back Bay, identified only as “Downtown.”

Walker said further research regarding the impact of evictions on the spread of COVID-19 in immigrant neighborhoods like Chinatown is “absolutely necessary and important moving forward” as immigrants from Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean might be at higher risk for evictions that don’t pass through an official or legal process. The CLVU report looked only at evictions that were officially filed through the housing court.

Despite the statistics in the report, Porcher said she and other residents must keep fighting.

“As a Black person, you feel like you’re constantly fighting — fighting for your job, fighting for your education, now you’re fighting to live in your home,” Porcher said. “You feel defeated, you feel beaten down, but we got to keep going. Our ancestors fought too hard and too long and we have to keep going.”

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