Disrupted showcases stories about eviction and health in Durham, NC.
9,441 evictions were filed from July 2017 to June 2018 in Durham County, North Carolina. Not all of the filings were for unique cases; often, some tenants would receive multiple eviction notices from the same landlord. Many times, these evictions have nothing to do with late or nonpayment of rent. We’re calling these no-fault evictions. Those facing no-fault evictions do not understand what they did wrong or why their homes are suddenly at risk. Because no literature exists on no-fault evictions, there are no statistics tracking the percentage of tenants who are not at fault in the overall number of eviction filings. This project serves as one of the first explorations of no-fault evictions through tenant stories, however, it also provides a general portrayal of evictions in the City and County of Durham given limited data.
Affordable housing advocates believe people who receive eviction judgments also experience poor health outcomes, but it is unclear what exactly happens to tenants’ well-being. Through photo stories of low-income tenants, we can begin to illustrate the health effects evictions have on people’s bodies and minds. The goal of this project is to share the stories of evictions and health with the Durham community and initiate efforts dedicated to addressing evictions.
There are four activities that compose this Master’s Project: (1) a grey and scholarly literature scan about evictions, housing instability, and health; (2) two case studies of tenants’ experiences with evictions and associated health outcomes; (3) two community events held in Durham, NC, featuring the photographs and stories of tenants, and a moderated community discussion about leveraging the City’s $95 million affordable housing bond referendum up for voting in November 2019; and (4) this website that compiles the findings and photographs of this project.
The stories and findings of this project demonstrate a need to address evictions in a more systematic effort.
For a segment of tenants renting in the private market, evictions can leave devastating effects on their health, including depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and exacerbation of existing health conditions. Ms. Starks’ story displayed a case of a woman who, despite being deeply religious, had her heart and soul tested by the shame of eviction. Ms. Turrentine’s story showcased what could happen to someone who receives an unexpected eviction notice when they have pre-existing conditions, to the point of her losing her teeth. Even discussions with one of the most prominent landlords in the City indicated potential effects that they experience as well, “it’s horrible,” as Mr. Soles shared.
During my research, I asked tenants, attorneys, officials, researchers, landlords, and advocates what they thought the solution to addressing evictions might be. Some believed the answer was more development of public housing and government involvement; others believed it was increasing minimum wage to improve livability conditions. A few thought that passing a just cause eviction ordinance—an ordinance that specifically prevents tenants from being evicted for improper reasons, as Ms. Starks and Ms. Turrentine faced—is reasonable. The Durham County Board of Commissions was considering the adoption of a just cause ordinance.
There were also mentions of: providing financial literacy trainings to tenants; expanding Medicaid; encouraging more landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers; conducting a “model landlord” workshop; redirecting funds from the City’s Inspection to cover landlord-tenant mediation instead; or ensuring that the government is not involved. As one landlord noted, affordable housing measures are never affordable.
It is clear that there are a myriad of options to address evictions and prevent complications of tenants’ health. To do so, however, requires an intentional and concerted effort operating at interpersonal, institutional, community, and policy levels.
This project would not have been possible without the tenants featured in this project and their courage in telling their story. It takes tremendous strength to speak about their experiences and their health. It is our hope that their journeys push Durham County to systematically address evictions.
The Durham community also provided immense informational support, including: Peter Gilbert and Brent Ducharme—staff attorneys—at the Durham Eviction Diversion Program, DataWorks NC, the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit, Center for Responsible Lending, and the City and County of Durham.
Inspiration for this project came from a team of Master’s in Public Health graduate students at UNC Gillings School of Public Health that comprised of Reah Siegel, Michele Plaugic, Madeleine Eldrige, and Adele Henderson.
Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen was also instrumental in the conceptualization and development of this project.
About the Author: Karla Jimenez-Magdaleno is dual Master’s candidate in Public Health (MPH) and City and Regional Planning (MCRP) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This masters project satisfies the requirements for the Master’s in City and Regional Planning. Karla’s advisor is Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen.