Disrupted: Eviction & Health in Durham, NC
Downtown Durham skyline. 2017. Photo credit: Karla Jimenez-Magdaleno

Downtown Durham skyline. 2017. Photo credit: Karla Jimenez-Magdaleno


Eviction and Gentrification


Beyond understand the process of an eviction, it is imperative to also understand the connection between gentrification and eviction.

Evictions are often perceived as being a symptom of gentrification. This project uses Lisa Bates’ (2013) definition of gentrification, which defines the phenomenon as a neighborhood change process involving:

  1. increased public and private investment;

  2. rapid increases in housing prices; and

  3. demographic and economic shifts in an area that result in experiences of housing instability for a segment of residents living in the area, often vulnerable racial/ethnic populations.

The logic follows that neighborhoods in early stages of gentrification (marked by rising property values, stagnant/unequal wages, and demographic changes) are more likely to experience an increase in evictions; further, the limited national data that exist on evictions indicate that cities with the highest rates of evictions are often ranked as affordable and up-and-coming places to live. Cities with neighborhoods in the midst of late-stage gentrification, like Washington, D.C., or Austin, TX, have eviction rates at or below the national average compared to large or midsize southern cities in early- to mid-stages of gentrification, like North Charleston, SC, or Durham, NC. This trend suggests that the relationship between gentrification and evictions is temporally-dependent, and in need of more understanding as southern cities continue to be at the forefront of this issue.

Below is a map developed by the Pew Charitable Trust using data from the Eviction Lab. It displays the eviction rates among large and mid-size cities in the United States for 2016, highlighting how landlords are filing the bulk of evictions in the south and mid-Atlantic region


Durham as a Focal Point

Rental application letter for a tenant going through an eviction judgment. 2018. Photo by Karla Jimenez-Magdaleno.

Rental application letter for a tenant going through an eviction judgment. 2018. Photo by Karla Jimenez-Magdaleno.


Understanding Durham City and County’s acceleration in gentrification can help the Durham community understand why evictions continue to occur and how we can potentially mitigate them. In Durham County, an increasing population (20% increase from 2000 to 2010) and increasing demand for housing has led to a fervent debate about housing affordability and questions about for whom the City-County is planning. Since the leadership of former Mayor Bill Bell starting in 2001, the City has prioritized “large-scale neighborhood revitalization” to combat endemic poverty, focusing on reducing crime, redeveloping dilapidated homes, and promoting economic development. Downtown Durham Inc. reported that since 2000 more than $1.7 billion of public and private investments have occurred in “less than one square mile” in downtown Durham.

The City also promotes a list of recent public investment projects used to leverage private investment in Durham, which include developments like One City Center—a 27-story $88 million development project housing luxury apartments, restaurants, and an urban market, with $3.97 million in subsidies. One City Center is considered the second largest project in downtown Durham. Meanwhile, from 2000 to 2011, the City has seen a 22% increase in median rent and an increasing shortage of affordable rental units for very low to extremely low income households. Lado and Enterprise Community Partners Inc. provided an example that “for every 100 renter households with incomes below 30% [area median income (AMI)], there are 38 rental units that are affordable to them” (slide 20). In short, the City has battled these seemingly opposing attempts at attracting and retaining businesses and development while addressing concerns around the stock of affordable housing.

Trends in Durham

In Durham County, eviction filing (legally filed as summary ejectment) trends have slowly, but consistently, decreased since 2012 (Figure 1). Despite these declines, the County, tenants, and landlords are still dealing with over 9,000 eviction filings in each of the past three years. The 2018 Fiscal Year marks the first time since 2003 that eviction filings were below 10,000 according to the Sheriff’s Department, though those numbers are unverified.

The Durham Eviction Diversion Program estimated receiving anywhere between 800 and 900 cases per month throughout 2018, continuing to 2019. The Diversion Program could only represent a fraction (about 5%) of the cases due to under-staffing, indicating that thousands of tenants each year go to court without representation.

Meanwhile, most landlords appear in court with legal representation. This reflects the Durham Human Relations Commission’s (DHRC) (2018) estimate that 95% of tenants in Durham County have gone unrepresented in court based on point-in-time data in December 2017. Providing tenants with legal representation has shown evidence to reduce eviction rates in various cities across the nation, including in Washington, D.C., New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.


Evictions Filed from July 2017 to June 2018


of Durham renters spent 30%+ of their income on rent (cost-burdened) in 2017


of tenants facing evictions in 2017 were Black


of tenants are unrepresented in court

Plot 1

Distribution of Evictions in Durham County

Eviction filings often occur because households fall behind on rent. Households that fall behind on rent tend to be housing insecure and are cost-burdened. Cost-burdened households spend more than 30% of their income on rent, and severely cost-burdened households spend more than 50%. In 2017, nearly half of Durham County’s tenant population was estimated to spend 30% or more of their household income on rent.

For racial and gender minorities, there are disparities in the proportion of cost-burdened households. In 2000, women of color shared the highest percentage of being cost-burdened, at 47%, and by 2015, they remained the most cost-burdened group at 52% according to PolicyLink. Meanwhile, since 2000, men of color experienced the greatest increase of cost burden, with a 67.9% increase. Table 1 lists the rent cost-burden in Durham County by race and gender from 2000 to 2015.

DHRC reveals the racial disparities in eviction filing cases in Durham County is consistent with national demographic disparities in eviction rates, and the disparities in cost-burden and income between White and Black households in Durham County. DHRC conducted an observational study for six days in December 2017 in Durham County Civil Court and found that 85% of tenants facing eviction were Black, 10% Latino, and 5% White. While the DHRC study is limited to only a few days in December, the Durham Neighborhood Compass shows that the greatest concentrations of eviction filings occur in predominantly racial minority neighborhoods. Key stakeholders in the City of Durham, including one of three housing court lawyers in Legal Aid, Peter Gilbert, and Durham City Mayor Steve Schewel, also suggest that the majority of those being evicted are Black mothers.

When it comes to where landlords are filing evictions in Durham County, DataWorks NC’s Durham Neighborhood Compass has mapped summary ejectments by census tract. The figure below shows screenshots of summary ejectments per square mile in 2012 and 2017, indicating how the greater concentrations of eviction filings fall within the City of Durham, mostly surrounding the outskirts of downtown Durham, East Durham, and the corridor toward Chapel Hill, NC. Black and Latino residents are predominant in these neighborhoods. The map corroborates trends in filings, with a general decline of evictions throughout the County. This could also indicate fewer opportunities to evict in that the areas with the greatest concentrations of evictions in 2012 have undergone faster rates of gentrification.


From the Neighborhood Compass’ Summary Ejectments in Durham County. Access the full data here.


Responses to Evictions in Durham

The City’s attempt to address evictions has primarily focused on financially supporting the Durham Eviction Diversion Program, an initiative created in 2017 aimed at providing legal services to tenants with eviction notices, and on providing emergency rental assistance. The program is run through Duke’s Civil Justice Clinic and is staffed by Legal Aid attorneys. Of the cases that the Diversion Program represented in the first year of the program, the attorneys were able to help about 79% of tenants avoid eviction. However, it is unknown how many of those tenants stayed in their home after their case closed. 

As of February 2019, the City’s Community Development Department (CDD) released a proposal for affordable housing investment for the next five fiscal years. In the proposal, CDD outlines strategies aimed at preserving existing rental housing and producing “green, affordable rental housing” for households <50% AMI (slides 6). In addition, the proposal notes expansions for funding for eviction diversion efforts, which begun in the third quarter of fiscal year 2019, with plans to allocate $200,000 for the upcoming fiscal year. At the County-level, Durham also provides limited emergency rental assistance for individuals who need short-term financial support to cover monthly bills through their Network of Care.

Outside of legal and government involvement, various organizations help provide residents with emergency housing or support, including Urban Ministries, Families Moving Forward, Durham Rescue Mission Men’s Division, Housing for New Hope, Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, and Genesis Home. Some of these organizations have partnered with the City to work on rapid re-housing. However, the focus of these groups and partnerships is on homelessness and not directly evictions.


Work to End Eviction.