A recent study conducted by a UW postdoctoral fellow shows that evictions in Washington state are contributing to the growth of the homeless population and that these evictions disproportionately affect women and people of color. This and similar studies are helping to inform new state policies regarding housing, which are currently being discussed in the state Legislature with hopes to reduce the growing homeless population.
Tim Thomas, the author of the study, has done research on how evictions intersect with race, gender, and class.
“Not only are evictions a function of the housing crisis, and [a contributor] to the homeless population, but [they are] also a civil rights issue,” Thomas said.
It is important to note who in particular is being faced with evictions in Seattle and Washington as a whole. Thomas’s dissertation found that women and people of color were much more likely to face evictions than men and whites.
“African Americans were being evicted [about] five times more than whites, African American women were evicted seven times more than white women, and most evictions were happening in the most racially diverse neighborhoods,” Thomas said of his research. “We also find that more women are evicted than men, and across Washington, upwards of about 12 up to 20 percent more in some counties.”
By acknowledging these racial and gender disparities in Washington evictions, we can better understand the lasting effects of segregation, displacement, and gentrification in Seattle and in Washington, and change state policy in order to restore justice, according to Thomas.
Why are people evicted?
The main cause of eviction is people falling behind on rent. As the cost of rent increases and many Seattle neighborhoods become increasingly gentrified, tenants become less stable in their ability to pay rent and may face rent burden, when more than 30 percent of a household’s income goes toward paying rent. If an unexpected cost comes up, such as a medical emergency or a car accident, a tenant may come up short for their next rent payment and be given an eviction notice.
The payment shortage is often relatively low. The Seattle Times reported that “Of renters who faced eviction, about half owed one month’s rent, with a median rent of $1,250 or less.” Some owe far less, possibly owing just $100 or even $2 on their rent before being given an eviction notice.
What happens when people are evicted?
Another study, conducted by the Seattle Women’s Commission (SWC) and the King County Bar Association’s Housing Justice Project (HJP) in 2018, found that almost 90 percent of evicted tenants in Seattle became homeless immediately after losing their homes, whether unsheltered (37.5 percent), staying in a shelter/transitional housing (25.0 percent), or staying with friends or family (25.0 percent). These data suggest that evictions are in fact contributing to Seattle’s homeless population, and thus to continued discrimination against those who are evicted.
Thomas also discussed how Washington has seen a huge decrease in affordable housing units for people earning lower incomes since 2012, which seems to have contributed to the growth of the homeless population.
“The year after we started losing affordable housing is the year we started to see a massive increase in the homeless population,” Thomas said. “And we haven’t tested the direct correlation, but it’s interesting that those trends occurred at the same time.”
Facing the problem
Thomas’s research shows that the disproportionality of evictions in Washington and Seattle are a continuation of geographic racial segregation and housing exclusion in our area. After facing evictions, people are often forced into homelessness and deal with further discrimination.
In order to address this problem and combat the lasting effects of segregation, Washington must adapt its housing and eviction policies to be more reasonable and just, according to Thomas.
“By and large, Washington state is far behind a lot of other states when it comes to housing policy,” Thomas said.
Some policy suggestions from Thomas include extending the “pay-or-vacate” period, which allows tenants only three days to pay or get out after receiving an eviction notice, and more broadly increasing living density, or how many people live in a given area of space, in order to account for population growth and a demand for more housing.
Reach reporter Emily Young at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @emilymyoung7
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