Addressing the Eviction Epidemic

Right to Counsel in New York City

Thomas J. WatersOksana Mironova

Evictions are a major cause of housing instability among low-income New Yorkers. Evictions often lead to homelessness, either immediately, or after a household has to “double-up” with family or friends. While other factors such as domestic violence also drive homelessness, the City’s Independent Budget Office (IBO) estimated that 28 percent of families in shelters are there because of an eviction. Overcrowding contributed to another 23 percent. Evictions damage a person’s credit, making it difficult to rent another apartment, creating a barrier to both government-subsidized and private housing.

In addition the rising incidence of unjust and preventable evictions is undermining the city’s rent regulated housing stock. Landlords sometimes use the threat of eviction either as a retaliatory measure against tenants who are organizing, or to force tenants out of rent stabilized apartments, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods. Pro-landlord provisions in the Rent Stabilization Law, like the 20 percent bonus that a landlord can add to the rent upon vacancy, contribute to tenant harassment in neighborhoods with rising rents. IBO’s analysis shows that the largest share of family shelter entries (43 percent) were from rent regulated apartments.1 Given the large and growing homeless shelter population in New York City, stemming unjust evictions is an obvious priority.

This month, the city launched a groundbreaking Right to Counsel program, which will give all tenants facing eviction access to legal services by 2022. Low-income tenants facing an eviction will have access to full legal representation, while higher income tenants will be eligible for a legal consultation.

In the first program year, the city will phase in the Right to Counsel Program in five zip codes. It is important to understand where tenants face the greatest threat from preventable evictions, to guide program expansion over the next five years. Below, we analyze the pattern of evictions across the city by zip code, and how they relate to homeless shelter entries, poverty, race, and rent stabilization.

 

Where is the greatest need?

This map illustrates eviction patterns and shelter entries by zip code. It is based on CSS analysis of Department of Investigation Data.2 Evictions are clustered in central and eastern Brooklyn (northern Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, Flatbush, East Flatbush, and East New York), and in the south and northwest Bronx, (including Morrisania, Claremont Village, High Bridge, Morris Heights, University Heights, and East Tremont). The map points to a close relationship between zip codes with high eviction rates and those from which residents are entering shelters because of housing related circumstances. Highest concentrations are in the Bronx overall (and south and northwest Bronx in particular), as well as central and eastern Brooklyn.

Click to view map of evictions and shelter entries

Map notes:  You can change which layers you see on these maps by selecting the check box on the upper left side for the layer you want to see. Most maps have multiple layers, some of which are not selected when first viewed.

 

Recent research by sociologist Matthew Desmond makes a strong case that evictions perpetuate poverty, especially among black households, and particularly those headed by women.3 The zip codes with the highest number of residents living in poverty, particularly black, Latino, and female-headed households, are often the same as those with the highest eviction rates. Our analysis of eviction data also finds a strong correlation between the number of evictions and census tracts with high rates of deep poverty. Even when controlling for census tract income, however, tenants residing in census tracts with a predominantly black or Latino population are more likely to be evicted than those residing in census tracts that are predominantly Asian or white. Given the relationship between race and evictions, it is not surprising that homelessness disproportionately impacts black and Latino New Yorkers: 58 percent of New York City homeless shelter residents are black, 31 percent are Latino, 7 percent are white, and less than 1 percent are Asian.4

Click to view map of evictions and poverty

 

Tenants living in rent regulated apartments may face the threat of unjust evictions as a result of various forms of harassment by landlords. The 20 percent vacancy bonus applied to new rent regulated leases and vacancy decontrol both make high tenant turnover in rent regulated buildings profitable for landlords. Those living in neighborhoods where property values and unregulated rents are rising quickly are under the greatest pressure. Zip codes in Crown Heights, like 11225, and Flatbush, like 11226, have both high eviction rates and a concentration of rent stabilized units. Neighborhoods in the northwest Bronx, including High Bridge, Morris Heights, University Heights, and Fordham (10452, 10453, 10458, 10468), have a high concentration of rent stabilized units and high number of evictions. In these neighborhoods, the high rate of poverty further increases the likelihood of evictions.

Click to view map of evictions and rent regulated units

 

Right to Counsel and Eviction Patterns in NYC

The Right to Counsel program will be phased in across five zip codes: 10468 (University Heights/Fordham, Bronx); 11225 (Prospect Heights/Crown Heights, Brooklyn); 10025 (UWS, Manhattan); 11373 (Elmhurst, Queens); 10314 (Castleton Corners/New Springville, SI). The program builds on the Expanded Legal Services (ELS) pilot, launched last year, which “provides universal legal representation for low-income tenants facing eviction from their homes in ten zones across the City.”5 The ten ELS zip codes are: 10026 (Harlem, Manhattan), 10027 (Harlem, Manhattan), 10302 (Port Richmond, Staten Island), 10303 (Mariners Harbor, Staten Island), 10457 (Tremont, Bronx), 10467 (Williamsbridge, Bronx), 11216 (Bedford-Stuyvesant/Crown Heights, Brooklyn), 11221(Bushwick/Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn), 11433 (Jamaica, Queens), 11434 (South Jamaica, Queens).

Click to view map of zip codes served by ELS and the new program

Map Notes: The U.S. Postal Service created zip codes for grouping mail delivery routes, not for mapping and displaying data. However, zip codes are often the smallest geographical area people are most familiar with (as compared to a census tract, for example). ZCTAs (zip code tabulation areas) were creates by the Census Bureau to approximate zip codes. CSS is using ZCTAs to represent zip codes in our maps and to map demographic data. While ZCTAs and zip codes generally align, they sometimes diverge, especially around parks, water bodies, and city/county boundaries. On this map, Bronx zip code 10467 and ZCTA 10467 do not align, likely because of the location of the New York Botanical Garden. Zip code 10467 is the second ELS zip code in the Bronx. It includes portions of ZCTA 10467 and ZCTA 10470.

 

While the Human Resources Administration has not stated how they picked the five zip codes for the new program, its predecessor, the ELS program, is targeted to zip codes that “include the most at-risk households facing eviction and homelessness as reflected in rates of shelter entry.” In the case of every borough besides Queens, it seems like the city is clustering the zip codes for the RTC phase-in with the existing ELS areas.

 

The question remains: What neighborhoods should the city target for the RTC program in 2018?

Neighborhoods that have a strong need for anti-eviction legal services have high poverty rates, especially among black and Latino households, high numbers of evictions, and a concentration of rent stabilized units. As the program expands in future years, priority should be given to areas with the greatest need and those facing the greatest displacement pressure, including:

  • Northwest and south Bronx, which have very high concentrations of low-income tenants (40-45 percent in some zip codes), particularly black and Latino tenants, many rent regulated apartments, and the highest rates of evictions/shelter entries.
  • Eastern Brooklyn, including East New York and Brownsville, where there is a large number of evictions, high poverty rates (30-35 percent in some zip codes), and high numbers of people entering homeless shelters. 
  • Central Brooklyn, including Flatbush and Crown Heights, where gentrification is putting pressure on rent regulated units with low-income tenants, as indicated by the high number of evictions. 
  • Northern Manhattan, were gentrification is putting pressure on rent regulated units with low-income tenants, as indicated by the high number of evictions.

Providing legal representation to low-income New Yorkers facing eviction promises to be a powerful, cost-effective tool to stem the tide of families entering shelters. Further, it will reinforce existing rent stabilization laws by providing tenants with legal backing to challenge unjust evictions and to organize for repairs and other basic needs. As the city implements this RTC program over the next five years, CSS will track its impact on eviction and homelessness rates. 


[1] New York Independent Budget Office, “The Rising Number of Homeless Families in NYC, 2002–2012: A Look at Why Families Were Granted Shelter, the Housing They Had Lived in & Where They Came From,” Fiscal Brief, November 2014.

[2] Department of Investigations eviction dataset for 2016.

[3] Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, 2016.

[4] Coalition for the Homeless, “State of the Homeless 2017. Rejecting Low Expectations: Housing is the Answer”

[5] NYC Office of Civil Justice, 2016 Annual Report, June 2016.

 

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