New Report Shows That Right to Counsel in Evictions in Baltimore Would Cost $5.7 Million but Generate $35.6 Million in Savings; Additional Report Describes Racial Disparities In Eviction
Baltimore Advocates, Tenants and Organizers Press For Immediate Action In Wake of COVID-19
Baltimore, MD – A newly published report from Stout Risius Ross, LLC (Stout) finds an annual investment of $5.7 million in a right to counsel for Baltimore tenants facing eviction would yield $35.6 million in benefits or costs avoided to the city and state.
This report comes as Baltimore City faces a rising wave of eviction actions due to COVID-19 with no clear relief on the horizon. The City has 125,000 renter households but annually has almost 140,000 eviction case filings resulting in approximately 70,000 eviction warrants and 6,500 evictions even before COVID-19 – an eviction rate almost 2.5 times the national average.
Recognizing the devastating impact of evictions on public health, childhood education, and the economy, jurisdictions around the country have temporarily halted evictions during the pandemic. While moratoriums like Maryland’s help to keep people in their homes, they are only temporary, and they do not address the systemic imbalances of power between landlords and tenants that drive in part the high eviction rates. As it stands now, 96% of landlords have lawyers in eviction cases, while only 1% of tenants do.
One way to address high rates of eviction in Baltimore City is by guaranteeing a right to counsel for tenants. This report shows a right to counsel in evictions cases is a proven, cost-effective means of reducing the disruptive displacement caused by eviction actions. Findings from today’s report include:
- An annual investment of $5.7 million in a right to counsel for Baltimore tenants facing eviction would yield $35.6 million in benefits or costs avoided to the City and State including:
- $10.6 million related to the costs of homeless shelters, transitional housing, and mental/physical health institution housing for persons with disabilities.
- $12.5 million in Medicaid savings related to reduced emergency room and in-patient care by homeless persons;
- $2.3 million related to lost state funding to City Schools due to the chronic absence of students experiencing homelessness;
- $2.4 million in transportation costs avoided related to students experiencing homelessness in City Schools; and
- $7.7 million in foster care costs related to children placed in foster care because of eviction.
- 92% of represented tenants would avoid disruptive displacement with a right to counsel in Baltimore City. The translates to 5,777 households and 17,300 people each year. Even notwithstanding the pandemic, Baltimore’s eviction rate is almost 2.5 times the national average, with 6,500 families evicted each year. Stout estimates that 92% of represented tenants would avoid disruptive displacement with a right to counsel in Baltimore City.
- Almost 80% of Baltimore City tenants in one survey had a defense to eviction but few were successful. Ninety-six percent of landlords are represented in eviction cases, while only 1% of tenants are represented. Legal representation helps tenants in defending against evictions by challenging conditions of serious disrepair that threaten health and safety, illegal fees, and unfair and deceptive practices.
The Stout report, funded by a grant from the Abell Foundation, shows that guaranteeing a right to counsel in eviction cases will not only level out this imbalance of power between landlords and tenants, but it will ensure many families can stay in their homes and save the city money over time. To avoid a housing catastrophe, advocates demand that right to counsel, rental assistance, and permanently affordable housing be central to the COVID-19 response.
Evictions perpetuate racial segregation and exacerbate displacement in Baltimore neighborhoods. An additional report released today by Tim Thomas, PhD, of the University of California at Berkeley’s Evictions Study and Urban Displacement Project shows that evictions in Baltimore have a disparate impact on African Americans. The number of Black women evicted is 3.9 times higher (296% more) than the number of white men evicted. Also, a map of Baltimore evictions shows that the highest risk of eviction occurs in the most segregated neighborhoods to the West and in gentrifying neighborhoods to the East. According to Dr. Thomas, “Our demographic estimates show a massive racial disparity making evictions a civil rights issue related to contemporary discrimination in housing access, displacement, and economic inequality linked to the legacies of segregation, policies, and practices directed against persons of color.” The report is available at https://evictions.study/
“The time to act is now,” said Public Justice Center attorney Matthew Hill. “We need to provide immediate relief to tenants across the city who are facing eviction. This means extending and expanding the eviction moratorium, increased rental assistance, and increased legal representation for tenants facing eviction right now. Baltimore’s sister cities like Philadelphia, Newark, and Cleveland are proving that right to counsel works. COVID-19 has exposed our inadequate housing policies, but we now have the chance to correct this injustice and the disparate impact on Black families with cost-effective solutions to rebuild our housing economy.”
Too often, threat of eviction comes as a retribution for renters attempting to get repairs made to illegal housing conditions.
- Josephine Murdock, a Baltimore-resident who avoided eviction with the help of an attorney, commented: “I had a rude awakening when my landlord tried to make me homeless because I complained about a gas leak in our apartment complex that he refused to fix for months. I was able to get an attorney and the court ordered the landlord to remedy the gas leak, and awarded me some of my rental payments. Without an attorney I fear for what would have happened to me and all the tenants in our building.”
- For Tiffany Ralph, secretary of the Bolton House Residents Association, a right to counsel would provide an avenue to address her landlord’s management practices, including ignoring her requests to remove toxic mold and the presence of rodents: “My son and I have no choice but to breathe in this mold as we’re stuck inside with COVID. We need a right to counsel so that folks know that they won’t have to face the landlord alone. Residents want to organize, but some are scared that Edgewood Management/Urban Atlantic will retaliate and try to evict them.”
Facts About Eviction in Baltimore:
- Evictions are not only a symptom of poverty but a cause of poverty. Evictions cause job loss, homelessness, declining credit, deteriorating health, and poor education outcomes, and contribute to children entering into foster care. Evictions lead to poor credit scores, loss of personal and financial assets and the disruption to local support systems (e.g., family networks, childcare).
- Right to Counsel helps level the playing field and ensures families are treated with dignity, as they confront eviction. In Baltimore, landlords are represented in 96% of cases, while tenants are represented in 1% of cases. A Baltimore Sun analysis revealed that judges favored landlords even when inspectors found and reported code violations such as leaking roofs, insect and rodent infestation, and lead paint – conditions of disrepair that undermine public health and are exacerbated by COVID-19.
- Right to Counsel has proven effective in other jurisdictions.
- New York City began a phased implementation of a right to counsel in evictions in 2018. Evictions have since dropped 29% in zip codes where the right to counsel has been implemented. 29% is nearly double the rate of comparable zip codes without right to counsel. In zip codes with a right to counsel, tenants remained in their homes in 84% of represented cases.
- Right to Counsel is being implemented in other jurisdictions including Philadelphia, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Newark, and is being considered in numerous others.
- Evictions have a disparate impact on persons with disabilities. Because of higher rates of poverty, persons with disabilities in Baltimore City are more likely to be rent burdened and therefore are more likely to face eviction proceedings than their non-disabled peers.
- Housing policy is education, health care, and economic policy.
- Shamoyia Gardiner, Education Policy Director for Advocates for Children and Youth remarked: “This is where empathy and economic efficiency meet. Policymakers should understand that the benefits of a right to counsel don’t stop with the renter; they extend to entire families, including children and the institutions that serve them. Baltimore City Public Schools stands to save $4.7 million a year related to costs for students experiencing homelessness alone—to say nothing of the mitigation of student trauma.”
- Dr. Alison Kraemer of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility commented: “More evictions during COVID-19 would be devastating given that over 12,000 individuals in Baltimore City are currently experiencing homelessness. Persons who experience homelessness struggle with greater physical and mental illness, poor health care access, and increased utilization of hospital services. As a result, they face higher mortality and shorter average lifespans. We join the call for a right to counsel, increased rental assistance and permanently affordable housing to not only save lives now but also to prevent and reduce homelessness in the long-term.”
Stout report provides concrete recommendation to protect residents. Robert C. Embry, Jr., President of the Abell Foundation, said “The Abell Foundation is pleased to fund this study, which definitively documents the effectiveness of free legal counsel in preventing evictions of low income tenants. By calculating the high opportunity costs of tenants not having legal counsel in eviction cases, the Stout report points to a concrete recommendation to protect our most vulnerable residents from unnecessary housing insecurity.”
Legal representation matters even more after COVID-19. “A massive wave of evictions in the wake of the COVID- 19 will further destabilize our state and thwart efforts at post-pandemic recovery and economic stabilization. The only legal way to get an eviction in Maryland is through a court order and the fact that tenants do not have legal representation in their court cases 99% of the time leads to evictions. Attorneys can and do make a difference. Providing a right to counsel in eviction cases goes to the heart of the problem and offers a solution that not only saves money, but has been proven to be effective. This is exactly the kind of solution policy-makers should be pursuing to protect public health and stabilize our economy post-pandemic,” says Reena Shah, Executive Director of the Maryland Access to Commission.
Acknowledgement: The Stout report was made possible with the support of the Abell Foundation, www.abell.org. The Abell Foundation is dedicated to the enhancement of the quality of life in Maryland, with a particular focus on Baltimore. The Foundation places a strong emphasis on opening the doors of opportunity to the disenfranchised, believing that no community can thrive if those who live on the margins of it are not included.
Dr. Timothy Thomas’s report on eviction demographics is available at https://evictions.study/
Baltimore Right to Counsel is supported by the Baltimore Renters United coalition and partners, https://bmorerentersunited.org
|Public Justice Center
Jews United for Justice
Md. Access to Justice Commission
Right to Housing Alliance
Homeless Persons Representation Project
Disability Rights Maryland
The ACLU of Maryland
Bolton House Residents Association
Pro Bono Resource Center
Md. Consumer Rights Coalition
Fair Development Roundtable
Md. Volunteer Lawyers Service
|Advocates for Children and Youth
Health Care for the Homeless
Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility
Medical-Legal P’ship Clinic at Univ. of Md. School of Law
Green & Healthy Homes Initiative
Civil Justice Network
Maryland Center on Economic Policy
Greater Baltimore Democratic Socialists of America
Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland
Baltimore Healthy Start Comm. Action Network
National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel