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With The Eviction Moratorium's End Looming, Black Renters Likely To Be Hit Hard


As we approach Juneteenth, the date commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S., we're going to take a look next at an ongoing racial disparity. Black people are twice as likely to face eviction from the homes they rent compared to white people. There's some evidence that's been the case during the pandemic, too. Meanwhile, a federal moratorium that's been protecting many families from eviction is about to expire in two weeks. NPR's Chris Arnold has been following this. Hi, Chris.


SHAPIRO: You've been reporting on evictions throughout the pandemic. Are they hitting Black renters harder?

ARNOLD: That does appear to be what's happening. And I did a story recently about a nonprofit group that tracked evictions by one big corporate landlord named Pretium Partners. And this group found that the company had filed well over a thousand eviction cases during the pandemic. And their report looked at mostly-Black counties and compared them to mostly-white counties with similar median incomes, and they found that this company was filing eviction cases at more than four times the rate against renters in those Black counties versus the white counties.

SHAPIRO: Four times higher seems extraordinary. Is that typical?

ARNOLD: It's hard to say if it's typical, but it certainly caught the attention of the chair of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Sherrod Brown. He sent a letter to the company asking for a meeting, and he wants answers about what's going on. The company says it's going to cooperate. And we should say that the company says the report is misleading and makes baseless assertions, and it says that it provides equal support to all residents.

SHAPIRO: OK, so beyond this one company, is there broader evidence across the country of a disparate impact on Black renters?

ARNOLD: Yes, and there absolutely is. A recent study out of the eviction lab at Princeton University - this one looked at millions of court records of eviction cases across 39 states over a number of years. This goes back before the pandemic. Peter Hepburn is one of the researchers who did the study.

PETER HEPBURN: Nationwide, on average, we're seeing eviction filing rates against Black renters that are about twice as high as what we see for white renters.

ARNOLD: And as far as why that's happening, Ari, he says there are a lot of reasons.

HEPBURN: And some of them are just economic, right? We know that Black renters have lower incomes. They have less stable employment as well. They have less in savings, and they're less able to call on family ties to provide financial support in the event of an emergency.

ARNOLD: But Hepburn thinks, too, that sometimes landlords are just treating people differently, being quicker to file eviction cases against Black renters.

SHAPIRO: You've been talking to people who are on the verge of getting evicted or who have been evicted. What are they telling you about their experiences in the pandemic?

ARNOLD: Well, you know, some of what we just heard Hepburn talking about, right? I mean, Black families historically tend to have less wealth and less savings for an emergency. So it's just harder to call mom and dad or your uncle to borrow some money. And you see that. I spoke with a man named Ivy Ross in Jacksonville, Fla., and he lost his job cleaning and detailing semi trucks. He also had hours cut at a second job. And he and his wife fell about $5,000 dollars behind on the rent, and they're facing eviction.

IVY ROSS: We're that couple where - people come to us when they need something. We're usually the ones to help others. So it was like - and this time, when the roles has changed, if they came right now today and kicked me out this house, I ain't got nowhere to go. I'd be looking at a hotel room.

ARNOLD: And hotel rooms, of course, are more expensive than just renting your place. So people end up falling deeper and deeper into debt a lot of the time, even living in their cars. You can just end up in this downward spiral.

SHAPIRO: But Congress approved billions of dollars in rental assistance to help people like Ivy Ross. I mean, why hasn't that come through for so many people who are in that situation?

ARNOLD: Well, you know, that's just kind of all over the map. There are now 389 different programs trying to distribute this federal money, Ari. And some are working really well now. Some are a mess. Ivy Ross was told that it was too late for him to apply. That wasn't even true. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and 7 million people are still behind on rent. And the CDC moratorium ends in two weeks.

SHAPIRO: Is there a chance the administration might extend that moratorium?

ARNOLD: They have extended it in the past. It's not clear if they'll do that again. One argument for extending it is to give this rental assistance money and the programs more time to work. In Boston this week, I talked to a renter. She's an African American single mom with two kids, Nancy Marazni (ph). And she says she's never faced eviction before this. She lost work during the pandemic, and she was really scared. But the program there just told her she is getting a lot of back rent paid with that federal money.

NANCY MARAZNI: I believe it was 15,000. I was in complete shock. I was crying. I was in tears. I was so grateful. I was so excited and so happy that finally something good is happening.

ARNOLD: And, of course, she doesn't have that huge debt hanging over her head, either. But, you know, in a lot of places, it's just not working this well yet. And people need more time to get the help.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Chris Arnold. Thanks, Chris.

ARNOLD: Thanks, Ari.


NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.