Rochester’s poverty talk has to include evictions
by: Jake Clapp
Matthew Desmond gets straight to the point in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Evicted.” “We have failed to fully appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty,” he writes in the book’s prologue. “Not everyone living in a distressed neighborhood is associated with gang members, parole officers, employers, social workers, or pastors. But nearly all of them have a landlord.”
In the book, Desmond, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, profiles eight families in Milwaukee, following their struggles with finding, and keeping, housing. To do this, in 2008, he first moved into a trailer park and then into a rooming house and took a full-time job as a fieldworker. Desmond — who’ll be in Rochester May 9 for a sold-out lecture hosted by PathStone — paints a deep picture of how eviction leads to poverty, and how that cycle keeps people trapped.
Last year, Desmond and a team of researchers at Princeton started The Eviction Lab, a database collecting eviction data, the first of its kind in the country. To date, 83 million records from 48 states and the District of Columbia have been added. The lab wants to make the data accessible to the public, and there are easy-to-use tools that allow you to look at local eviction rates, demographic information, and make comparisons with other municipalities.
The Eviction Lab doesn’t yet have data on Rochester, but New York State reported 38,055 evictions in 2016. And according to Rochester City Court information, there were 3,510 evictions in Rochester in 2017.
In reality, the number of evictions in Rochester is probably higher, says Susan Boss, executive director of the Housing Council at PathStone, since that number reflects only evictions that went through the court process. The only legal way for a landlord to evict a tenant is through a court process, but techniques like changing the locks, removing furniture, or even just threatening court action are often used to get people to move.
The Housing Council, which runs a hotline for housing issues, received 1,167 calls in 2017 related to eviction, from tenants and landlords regarding everything from threats of eviction to what a family can do once it’s been evicted.