We Have a Tool to Fix Philly’s Eviction Crisis

The Philadelphia Inquirer

As we enter Black History Month, many of us are given an amplified platform to speak out against the widespread racial injustice across this country, and given space to discuss how we can mandate that fairness underlie all of this nation’s institutions. One of the starkest inequities in our society is housing. Every person should have the opportunity to live in a safe, stable home, but for too many black people and people of color, that simply isn’t the reality.

That divide persists in Philadelphia. An ACLU report highlights how “women of color bear the burden of eviction,” noting a 2001 study that found women of color to be 70 percent of tenants facing eviction in the city. America has a broad eviction crisis that forces tenants into displacement and homelessness across the country. But clearly America’s eviction crisis also has a race problem.

Eviction filings, even when controlling for other factors like income and education, disproportionately affect black people and people of color. Philadelphia’s black community sees eviction rates more than three times as high as white Philadelphians. This makes race one of the most reliable predictors of eviction. And once tenants are evicted, it’s nearly impossible to find good housing. Often, the only landlords who will consider renting to tenants with eviction records are operating unsafe, substandard housing. One of our clients with previous evictions is renting a property that has been cited by Licenses and Inspections for a serious rat infestation and lack of running water. These limited options only exacerbate the high rates of housing instability suffered by black people and people of color.

Fortunately, one of the most effective solutions for preventing eviction and housing instability is already in effect around the country: civil legal aid. Civil legal aid provides access to free legal help for people to protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families. Our goal in providing aid at Philadelphia’s Community Legal Services Inc. is to ensure fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of income, race, or gender.

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