In 83 Million Eviction Records, a Sweeping and Intimate New Look at Housing in America

In 83 Million Eviction Records, a Sweeping and Intimate New Look at Housing in America

by: Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui

RICHMOND, Va. – Before the first hearings on the morning docket, the line starts to clog the lobby of the John Marshall Courthouse. No cellphones are allowed inside, but many of the people who’ve been summoned don’t learn that until they arrive. “Put it in your car,” the sheriff’s deputies suggest at the metal detector. That advice is no help to renters who have come by bus. To make it inside, some tuck their phones in the bushes nearby.

This courthouse handles every eviction in Richmond, a city with one of the highest eviction rates in the country, according to new data covering dozens of states and compiled by a team led by the Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond.

Two years ago, Mr. Desmond turned eviction into a national topic of conversation with “Evicted,” a book that chronicled how poor families who lost their homes in Milwaukee sank ever deeper into poverty. It became a favorite among civic groups and on college campuses, some here in Richmond. Bill Gates and former President Obama named it among the best books they had read in 2017, and it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

But for all the attention the problem began to draw, even Mr. Desmond could not say how widespread it was. Surveys of renters have tried to gauge displacement, but there is no government data tracking all eviction cases in America. Now that Mr. Desmond has been mining court records across the country to build a database of millions of evictions, it’s clear even in his incomplete national picture that they are more rampant in many places than what he saw in Milwaukee.

Mr. Desmond’s team found records for nearly 900,000 eviction judgments in 2016, meaning landlords were given the legal right to remove at least one in 50 renter households in the communities covered by this data. That figure was one in 25 in Milwaukee and one in nine in Richmond. And one in five renter households in Richmond were threatened with eviction in 2016. Their landlords began legal proceedings, even if those cases didn’t end with a lasting mark on a tenant’s record.

For landlords, these numbers represent a financial drain of unpaid rent; for tenants, a looming risk of losing their homes.

In Richmond, most of those evicted never made it to a courtroom. They didn’t appear because the process seemed inscrutable, or because they didn’t have lawyers to navigate it, or because they believed there is not much to say when you simply don’t have the money. The median amount owed was $686.

Inside the courtroom, cases sometimes brought in bulk by property managers are settled in minutes when defendants aren’t present.

“The whole system works on default judgments and people not showing up,” said Martin Wegbreit, director of litigation at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society. “Imagine if every person asked for a trial. The system would bog down in a couple of months.”

The consequences of what happens here then spread across the city. The Richmond public school system reroutes buses to follow children from apartments to homeless shelters to pay-by-the-week motels. City social workers coach residents on how to fill out job applications when they have no answer for the address line. Families lose their food stamps and Medicaid benefits when they lose the permanent addresses where renewal notices are sent.

“An eviction isn’t one problem,” said Amy Woolard, a lawyer and the policy coordinator at the Legal Aid Justice Center in town. “It’s like 12 problems.”

Click here to read more…

Well-priced ranch homes are hot in Rochester-area’s real estate market –

Well-priced ranch homes are hot in Rochester-area’s real estate market

by: Mary Chao

For the past 30 years, Carla Palumbo enjoyed city living in the Lyell-Otis neighborhood in her two-story home on Glide Street. The diverse neighborhood is close to downtown and near amenities, such as Olindo’s Cash and Carry, where she would stock up on imported foods from Italy.

Palumbo, 60, decided a few years ago that the time had come to look into moving into one-story living. She began working in earnest with her Realtor, Carm Lonardo of ReMax Realty Group, last fall to search for that perfect ranch home with the criteria that it should be in a location close to downtown, where she works as CEO of the Legal Aid Society, and should not exceed $170,000.

After getting beat out on two deals, Palumbo was able to snare a buy on her perfect ranch home in Greece on Heritage Drive with an asking price of $139,900 for 1,316 square feet of living space. She moved quickly with Lonardo to write an offer and just closed on the deal last week.

Smaller existing single-family ranch homes that are in updated condition and priced well are in high demand in the current market as people seek easy-to-care-for homes, Lonardo said.

“They’re very popular and go quickly,” Lonardo said.

Ranch homes are especially popular with the baby boomer generation looking to downsize, Lonardo added.

Palumbo’s home in Greece was built in 1963 and features refinished hardwood flooring. The living room features a curved wall — a 1960s retro touch.

There is also a formal dining room and a family room that’s adjacent to the kitchen. The entire kitchen area has been remodeled with granite counters, an island with seating, a subway-tiled backsplash and all new stainless appliances.

Click here to read more…

City threatens to take control of ignored apartment buildings –

City threatens to take control of ignored apartment buildings

by: Jake Clapp

Peter Hungerford is starting to become a well-known name to people who follow housing issues in Rochester. Hungerford owns several buildings where tenants say that they have been living in bad, unaddressed conditions, like sewage backing up in their apartments, mold, and electrical problems.

Last month, tenants at 447 Thurston Road started a rent strike. And on Monday, renters at 967 Chili Avenue, some of whom are joining the rent strike, held a small rally to highlight their own building’s problems, including a ceiling falling apart in the building’s entrance way, reports of infestation, and broken windows. The 15-unit building currently has 15 outstanding code violations.

Those actions have gotten the City of Rochester’s attention. The city has threatened to take five of Hungerford’s buildings into receivership if past-due violations aren’t addressed. Through receivership, the city or a third party would take control of the building, collect rent from tenants, and get repairs made in the building. Hungerford was given an April 1 deadline.

“What we’ve seen is that when tenants have gone public in other buildings, the city has responded,” said Ryan Acuff, an organizer with the City-Wide Tenant Union. “And through that, the landlord is taking certain things more seriously.”

Click here to read more…

In Flint, Mich., there’s so much lead in children’s blood that a state of emergency is declared –

In Flint, Mich., there’s so much lead in children’s blood that a state of emergency is declared

by: Yanan Wang

For months, worried parents in Flint, Mich., arrived at their pediatricians’ offices in droves. Holding a toddler by the hand or an infant in their arms, they all have the same question: Are their children being poisoned?

To find out, all it takes is a prick of the finger, a small letting of blood. If tests come back positive, the potentially severe consequences are far more difficult to discern.

That’s how lead works. It leaves its mark quietly, with a virtually invisible trail. But years later, when a child shows signs of a learning disability or behavioral issues, lead’s prior presence in the bloodstream suddenly becomes inescapable.

According to the World Health Organization, “lead affects children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral changes such as shortening of attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. Lead exposure also causes anemia, hypertension, renal impairment, immunotoxicity and toxicity to the reproductive organs. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible.”

The Hurley Medical Center, in Flint, released a study in September that confirmed what many Flint parents had feared for over a year: The proportion of infants and children with above-average levels of lead in their blood has nearly doubled since the city switched from the Detroit water system to using the Flint River as its water source, in 2014.

The crisis reached a nadir Monday night, when Flint Mayor Karen Weaver declared a state of emergency.

“The City of Flint has experienced a Manmade disaster,” Weaver said in a declaratory statement.

Click here to read more…

These are the ways student loans stop people from buying a house –

These are the ways student loans stop people from buying a house

  • Eighty-three percent of people ages 22 to 35 with student debt who haven’t bought a house yet blame their educational loans.
  • Owning a home, the most common way Americans build wealth, can become a distant dream for many crushed by student debt.

by: Annie Nova

In the late 1990s, Ed McKinley fell in love with a $65,000 house by a lake in New Hampshire.

The owners let him move in early and pay rent until the buying process was completed.

Inside his new home, McKinley installed a modern stove, painted the walls and began to redo the floors.

Then came the bad news.

“The mortgage company decided that my income-to-debt ratio was a little bit higher than they were comfortable with,” McKinley, 59, said.

They were referring to his $34,000 in federal student loan debt.

He had to pack up and leave.

“It’s crushing,” McKinley said, choking up. “I have a very strong desire to own a piece of land that I can put my signature on.”

RRH, UR bring health care to the homeless –

RRH, UR bring health care to the homeless

by: Gino Fanelli

When the term medical innovation is brought up, it conjures images of groundbreaking medical technology, cures for illnesses through extensive experimentation and, ultimately, a benefit for all of humankind.

But in a place like Rochester, which has access to some of the highest level of care in the nation, there is a third kind of innovation: finding a way to bring that care to the people who need it the most and are too often left out of the system.

That’s exactly what Rochester Regional Health and the University of Rochester are doing; RRH through its Mobile Medical units, and UR via its Street Medicine program.

They’re two very different forms of outreach. RRH puts a dental practice and primary care practice on wheels—a modified van traveling to key areas to offer care. No payment, no insurance, no questions asked. UR’s Street Medicine Team is made up of medical students popping up at shelters three times a week.

On a frigid February afternoon, the RRH dental unit parks itself on the street outside a north side Volunteers of America Shelter. It’s a modest setup; a single dental chair situated in the back portion of the van and the mid-portion converted to a sort of waiting room. Put into commission in 2011, it’s the second medical unit since the program’s inception in 1998 and a move up from a rundown truck used in the early days of the program.

“Our philosophy with this program has always been to bring care to the homeless, rather than have them come to us,” said Carlos Swanger, medical director for the Mobile Medical unit and a 20-year veteran of program. “We do go to some shelters directly, without the unit. It’s sometimes easier that way. You have more space inside to provide care. But sometimes we don’t have that access, we don’t have that space, and that’s where the mobile unit comes in.”

There’s no payment required to access the van. No need to call ahead, no need for insurance, just come in and you’ll be treated. But that part can be tricky. Many homeless, as both teams are quick to point out, are inherently fearful of the medical system.

“I have one patient who comes to the door every time, and he’ll just say ‘hello,’” said April Taylor, dental assistant. “I keep wanting him to come on the bus, and I keep wanting him to come inside, but he just comes back and says hello. That’s my goal now, to get him on the bus and get him dental.”

The sentiment is echoed by the URMC students. They are even less equipped, and do not have the means to provide direct medical care. They can take looks, make suggestions and coordinate access to care. But they are also tasked with a sometimes insurmountable job; to break the barrier between the homeless and medical care. Armed with the most basic of medical supplies and a van whose every key turn is a roll of the dice, the fully donation-supported team heads to House of Mercy on a snowy Wednesday evening. Their goal, first and foremost, is to talk.

“We’re there mostly to interact, to be a friendly face,” said Michael Healey, a second year medical student and student director of the program. “We can bring a flu shot, and look to see if there’s something wrong, but mostly, we just try to talk.”

It’s a difficult issue, as volunteer and second-year medical student Stephen Hassig was quick to explain.

RRH, UR bring health care to the homeless 

Greece and Parma receive funding to rebuild after flooding –

Greece and Parma receive funding to rebuild after flooding

by: Velvet Spicer

The towns of Greece and Parma have received $942,000 to restore and rebuild following last year’s Lake Ontario flooding, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week. The funding is being used to reimburse for emergency costs as well as rebuild and fortify the infrastructure to protect communities from future damage.

The state has committed $55 million to recovery efforts to support homeowners, small businesses and community infrastructure.

“Last year these Monroe County communities experienced severe flooding along the shores of Lake Ontario, and we continue to stand with members of our New York family who are still recovering,” Cuomo said in a statement Thursday. “This funding will continue to give real relief (to) these communities and help Greece and Parma build back stronger and smarter than ever before.”

The Town of Greece has been awarded more than $576,000 to cover reimbursements related to the flood damage, inspection services for potentially at-risk areas and the implementation of traffic control measures. Roughly 97,000 residents were affected by the flooding that occurred along the Lake Ontario coastline from Braddock Bay to Round Pond.

Parma has received more than $366,000 in grant funds to cover emergency expenses, inspection services for at-risk areas, traffic control measure, the purchase of equipment to pump overburdened storm drains and other items. Some 16,000 residents were affected by major flood damage where a break wall eroded.

“The flooding of Lake Ontario in 2017 took a significant toll on public infrastructure and therefore impacted every local taxpayer, not just those who live near the lake,” Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said. “Our county teams worked hard to ensure that no public services were disrupted by the flooding, but even now we are still repairing impacted infrastructure while reinvesting in improvement projects to prevent future damage.” / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Greece and Parma receive funding to rebuild after flooding 

Washington Post: HUD looks to remove anti-discrimination language from mission statement

Washington Post: HUD looks to remove anti-discrimination language from mission statement

By: Eli Watkins, CNN

(CNN)The Department of Housing and Urban Development is looking to remove anti-discrimination language from its mission statement, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The department announced that it was considering changing the mission statement in an open letter to employees from Secretary Ben Carson on Thursday. But Carson’s letter denied the changes “signal some sort of retreat from our legal and rightful role in protecting Americans from housing discrimination.”

“The Department’s mission statement has changed from time to time to capture the dynamic nature of our work. …” Carson added. “But the notion that any new mission statement would reflect a lack of commitment to fair housing is nonsense.”

A HUD spokesman told CNN on Wednesday that “no new statement has been decided upon,” and said the past two administrations had changed the department’s mission statement.

The mission statement as currently written says the department’s mission includes building “inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.”

A memo obtained by Huffington Post that HUD reportedly verified to The Washington Post has language that would shorten the statement significantly, including the words “free from discrimination,” and insert a focus on ensuring “opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency.”

According to the reports, HUD official Amy Thompson wrote in the memo that the statement included input from HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who recently came under fire for lavish spending.

In a statement on Wednesday, HUD acknowledged that it is seeking to make “modest changes to the department’s mission statement” and said it would nevertheless continue to try to oppose discrimination in housing.

The statement continued, “Any mission statement for this department will embody the principle of fairness as a central element of everything we do. HUD has been, is now, and always will be committed to ensuring inclusive housing, free from discrimination for all Americans.”

Click here to read more…

Bringing “Zombies” Back to Life –

Bringing “Zombies” Back to Life

by: Katherine Greider

For years, code enforcement officers in the Western New York state Town of Cheektowaga had been aware of decaying properties in their midst, but finding a party to cite for code violations had been difficult, and getting compliance was nearly impossible. In some cases, town officials watched in frustration as heavy winters further deteriorated a vacant home, turning it from a local asset to eyesore, and then hazard. A worst-case scenario was that the home would end its life as a ruin, to be demolished and carted away at a cost of thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars—paid for by local taxpayers.

Since the collapse of the housing market after the Great Recession, thousands of properties stuck in foreclosure limbo—also called zombie properties—have been left vacant and deteriorating in towns and cities across the state. With the owner of record long gone and the bank showing little progress toward taking possession, the burden of maintaining these semi-foreclosed properties has often fallen on strapped municipal governments.

Recently, with seed money from a settlement between the New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and a major bank over misconduct that led to the housing crisis, 76 New York municipalities are working to push these homes back into productive use. In the process, they are gaining fine-grained intelligence about clusters of vacant homes in their neighborhoods and developing preventative tools that can protect and benefit their communities into the future.

The Story of Zombie Remediation

In early 2017, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) was enlisted to deploy and steward $70 million of the settlement. The settlement funds are in place to create and preserve affordable housing across the state and support 11 of its land banks—nonprofit entities empowered to acquire distressed properties at low cost and rehabilitate them when possible.

The “zombie relief” grants represent $12.6 million of the settlement, and will support the capacity of New York municipalities to inventory vacant and abandoned homes, dig into the causes of vacancy, step up code enforcement, and innovate policies that can put an end to the phenomenon. The grants are also connecting local governments with the specialized nonprofits to reach out to at-risk homeowners to offer foreclosure prevention counseling.

Grants are prioritized to towns and cities with at least 100 vacant properties. Through monthly check-ins with grantees, LISC is gathering insight from across the network, sharing it in real time, and brainstorming. Some towns, for example, are finding that they need to upgrade technology for code enforcement officers; others are discovering a need for legal research and representation.

“If you put more effort at the front end, at prevention and early intervention, even with limited resources you can do more to avoid blight,” says LISC’s Helene Caloir. “You can manage it in a way that doesn’t create this terrible cycle.”

Two Towns’ Assault on Zombies

This brainstorming has been ongoing in about a dozen municipalities in Western New York, a region that has struggled to address a surfeit of vacant properties since long before the foreclosure crisis added zombie homes to the mix.

The problem takes a variety of forms. On Buffalo’s East Side, abandonment may cast a pall over an entire block. Meanwhile, in Cheektowaga, a middle-class community along Buffalo’s eastern city limits, vacant homes burden municipal services and threaten to destabilize otherwise vibrant streets.

The complicated stories around each of these properties—their physical, legal, and financial status—may be quite different, too, and so piecing together the facts is a labor-intensive but necessary step toward preserving a building’s value and future reoccupation.

Using its $250,000 grant, the Town of Cheektowaga began by conducting street-by-street external inspections to update its vacant properties list and enlisting a part-time clerk and the legal nonprofit Western New York Law Center to research ownership and associated liens. By November 2017, Dale Marie Parks, a planner for the town, had a data-rich map and roster of 389 vacant properties. Some are habitable and some must be demolished, but most fall into a middle category of “need work.”

And as it turns out, nearly a quarter of Cheektowaga’s vacant homes are “bank-involved,” or somewhere in the foreclosure process, but it now has the data and resources to stanch the downward spiral.

With a detailed, up-to-date list, officials are ready to mount the town’s first major test of a state law passed in June 2016 that requires the foreclosing banks to secure and maintain vacant homes during the foreclosure process. “We’re going to send our inspectors out to do full citations on those in disrepair,” said Willis. “Our next step is to start contacting banks.”

Another piece of the zombie program is connecting distressed homeowners to counseling and representation. Kate Lockhart, a paralegal at the Western New York Law Center, has seen the zombie drama unfold from a human angle. Many homeowners she has spoken with mistakenly assumed they had to leave their homes as soon as the initial notice of foreclosure arrived in the mail. Others, still reeling from personal crises that made them unable to make house payments—job loss, divorce, the death or illness of a breadwinner—were desperate to move on.

“I heard time and time again people saying they couldn’t stay in this house, they needed to leave and wanted to turn the house over to the bank,” said Lockhart. “But the bank won’t just take a property from you. Even if you apply for a deed in lieu of a foreclosure, where the bank does take title instead of a foreclosure, it’s still months of paperwork.”

As part of its zombie grant, Cheektowaga plans concentrated outreach to homeowners, both those who may be at risk for foreclosure, such as low-income seniors, and owners of zombie properties who may be helped to get back into—or out from under—their properties.

In the neighboring town of West Seneca, also a grantee, Lockhart has already helped homeowners achieve beneficial outcomes in two cases where research revealed the bank had discharged the mortgage—in essence, walked away from the vacant home.

In one case, the owner moved back in. In another, an 88-year-old woman, after six long years of worry, was finally able to unload the two-unit property she’d owned with her son. She will receive a small sum from the sale, and the buyer intends to fix up the 100-year-old dwelling.

Cheektowaga and other towns also work with the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation (BENLIC), the regional land bank that in its four years of operation has become a major partner to many of the western New York cities and towns.

In a so-called “super bid,” BENLIC can obtain empty homes at the county tax auction at greatly reduced prices then resell them with a scope of work the buyer is required to complete to bring the homes back to life and onto the tax rolls. The land bank may also return lots back to the town to build infill housing for income-qualified, first-time homebuyers.

Bringing “Zombies” Back to Life

House of Mercy gets convertible sleeping bag-backpack-coats –

House of Mercy gets convertible sleeping bag-backpack-coats

by: WHAM

Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) – One of the lead organizations that helps to care for the homeless in Rochester is getting some help.

The BodyMind Float Center donated 50 Empowerment coats to the House of Mercy in Rochester.

The coats can convert to sleeping bags and also backpacks for people who live on the streets and will not go to shelters.

“These help them survive better,” said Sister Grace Miller, who runs the House of Mercy. “They don’t have to be afraid; they know they are can be warm and can wear them and use them. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s a great invention.”

Sister Grace said the coats will be given to people living on the street who don’t like crowds and want to be alone.

Click here to read more…