Landlords are more than twice as likely to file for evictions against Black renters in Philadelphia than against white renters, a rate disproportionate to the share of Black renters in the city, according to a report the Reinvestment Fund released Thursday.
In a review of residential eviction filings from 2018 through 2019, the annual filing rate for Black Philadelphia renters was nearly 9%, while the rate for white Philadelphia renters was about 3%. Although Black Philadelphians make up less than half of the city’s renters — about 45% — two in three eviction cases were against Black tenants, according to the Philadelphia-based redevelopment nonprofit. White renters make up a third of the city’s tenants but 17% of defendants in eviction cases.
These statistics from before the pandemic highlight the predicament of Black renters as they entered a health and economic crisis that also has disproportionately affected Black people. They are more likely to face serious complications if they contract COVID-19 and to work in jobs vulnerable to pandemic-related cuts. Based on the pre-pandemic trend, they also are more likely to be thrown out of their homes at the end of pandemic eviction moratoriums, which do not protect all renters.
Not all eviction filings result in court hearings and lockouts, but just the presence of an eviction filing in a tenant’s record makes finding future quality housing more challenging. From 2018 through 2019, landlords filed for evictions against more than 22,000 Black renter households and roughly 5,800 white renter households, according to researchers at Reinvestment Fund.
City Councilmember Kendra Brooks said her office is looking into sealing eviction records as a way to reform the eviction process, the intent of new measures such as the city’s Eviction Diversion Program.
“When 70% of eviction filings go to women of color, it’s clear that this is not just a housing issue, but a racial justice issue,” Brooks said in a statement. “Generations of housing discrimination in the form of redlining and other racist practices have robbed Black working-class communities of their wealth and contributed to the housing crisis that we are seeing across our city right now. There is no clearer illustration of structural oppression in Philadelphia than our city’s high eviction rate and who it impacts.”
Eviction filings tend to occur in the city’s lowest-income neighborhoods, including upper North Philadelphia and Southwest Philadelphia, but also in middle-income, predominantly Black neighborhoods at the edges of the city, researchers found.
“I don’t think what we know can fully explain this phenomenon of Black renters being overrepresented in evictions, no matter what they earn, no matter where they live,” said Emily Dowdall, policy director at Reinvestment Fund. This indicates that structural racism and, in some cases, individual landlords’ racism play a role, she said.
In previous studies, Reinvestment Fund researchers found that about a third of tenants they talked to had ongoing difficulty paying rent and another third said that one unexpected expense, such as a medical bill or car repair, permanently derailed them. Due to systemic racism that has historically limited Black wealth, Black households overall have less money in savings than white households.
Landlords have told Reinvestment Fund researchers in the past that their relationships with tenants determine their attitudes about leniency for nonpayment of rent. Differences in cultures and communication styles between landlords and tenants can lead to breakdowns in communication and then evictions, Dowdall said.
Judith Jones, vice president of the Philadelphia Tenant Support Organization, which focuses on renters of color and low-income renters, said that most of the tenants she encounters who are facing eviction are Black and that some landlords are less willing to work out agreements with Black tenants.
“Even with the eviction moratorium going on, a lot of landlords, they want people out because people can’t pay their rent,” Jones said. She’s hearing of landlords asking for emergency court orders to evict by calling their renters nuisance tenants and claiming people are using or selling drugs when they are not.
She’s found that Black tenants also are less likely to be able to live with family or friends and so they stay as long as possible in their homes, even if they can’t pay the rent, and then they get evicted.
“Hopefully, the rental assistance will start up again, but that doesn’t do anything for people who are unable to pay their rent right now,” she said.
Dowdall said city and court officials need to make sure they reach landlords and Black tenants across the city — not only those in majority Black neighborhoods — with resources such as rental and legal assistance to prevent evictions. And city officials should look to adjust systems and laws around evictions to address disparities, she said.
Because most people live in private housing, the private market drives the disparity in eviction filing rates against Black and white tenants, according to the report. The filing rate for Black renters in this market is almost three times higher than the rate for white renters.
In public housing, white tenants have higher eviction filing rates than Black tenants, according to researchers. But because public housing has more Black tenants than white tenants — the result of discriminatory housing practices and systems that have limited Black wealth — there were 13 times more evictions filed against Black renters than white ones.
Although Black renters were overrepresented in eviction filings throughout the city, the overrepresentation was more pronounced in more racially mixed neighborhoods.
Reinvestment Fund researchers found elevated eviction rates for Black tenants in recently gentrifying neighborhoods, such as Point Breeze and Brewerytown. Although gentrification is not driving the city’s eviction crisis, evictions can hasten a pattern of demographic change.
“You could see all together this heightened eviction rate, rising prices, and a decline in the Black and Hispanic populations over time,” Dowdall said.
Reinvestment Fund’s report is one in a series on evictions funded by the William Penn Foundation and the Oak Foundation to inform efforts to mitigate the effects of eviction.
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.