Twenty landlords executed nearly half of all eviction filings in the District of Columbia in 2018, according to a report published by Georgetown University graduate professors.
Professors in the McCourt School of Public Policy found the combined effect of a small number of landlords and low eviction filing fees aggravate housing instability and evictions in the District of Columbia.
The report, titled “Eviction in Washington, DC: Racial and Geographic Disparities in Housing Instability,” was written by Georgetown professors Brian McCabe and Eva Rosen to research and summarize the nuances of D.C.’s housing instability and eviction policies. The project enlisted a team of undergraduate and graduate student research assistants to analyze court records from every eviction filing in the District between 2014 and 2018.
The report highlighted that 60% of evictions take place east of the Anacostia River in Wards 7 and 8, with an executed eviction rate in Ward 8 that is 13 times higher than in Ward 2, which includes Georgetown. In the report, McCabe and Rosen found a small number of landlords have claimed responsibility for the total number of evictions in the district, with 20 landlords owning 21% of rental units accounting for nearly half of evictions.
“Evictions are concentrated in the hands of a small number of property owners,” the report reads.
One undergraduate research assistant, Mickey Cervino (COL ’21), said the disproportionately large number of evictions in the 7th and 8th Wards shows D.C.’s resources continue to be distributed unevenly, leaving many Black residents in the city unprotected.
“DC is a heavily segregated city and looking at virtually any statistic of social support or well-being it is clear that the Black residents of this city are targeted and left unprotected by our public infrastructure, this report just continues to show that this trend is more pervasive and malicious than we can imagine,” Cervino wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Dalila Cuevas Rodriguez (SFS ’21), another research assistant, said while the report’s findings did not surprise her, its findings provide new evidence of the predatory behavior of certain landlords who take advantage of low filing fees.
“I was responsible for gathering data from court documents, and when inputting data I quickly noticed a pattern,” Rodriguez wrote in an email to The Hoya. “In every other court document, the same landlord organizations kept popping up. Our data provided visualization of these patterns, for the purpose of making a strong legal case in the future.”
Despite the high number of court filings, the report found most renters only owed a modest amount of rent and most cases did not result in a formal eviction. When summoned to court, the average tenant owes $1,207, with 12% of households oweing $600 or less. Although 5.5% of eviction filings resulted in a formal eviction, the report states many renters must leave their homes for reasons not captured by court records.
This data demonstrates legislative and judicial systems are partly culpable for these trends because they enable landlords to take advantage of an easy eviction filing process, according to Cervino.
“The report shows just how widespread and weaponized the eviction process truly is for DC’s residents, and that often the end goal isn’t even a full eviction,” Cervino wrote. “The courts are being used to intimidate and put pressure on people who are already struggling to pay bills, and as the report shows, this is disproportionately clustered in Wards 7 and 8 — those wards with the highest proportion of Black residents.”
Professor McCabe said the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have made it more imperative to prevent evictions, and he emphasized the importance of the eviction moratorium currently in place in the city.
“There is currently an eviction moratorium in the District that will be extended into early next year,” McCabe wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Given the ways that eviction filings create housing instability for households already struggling with the pandemic, this eviction moratorium is really important for keeping families housed throughout the crisis.”
When D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) declared a public health emergency in March, as a part of the state of emergency, D.C. instituted a temporary ban on evictions to account for residents experiencing financial instability. Right now, the eviction moratorium will expire 60 days after the state of emergency is set to end Dec. 31, according to U.S. News.
McCabe said the report’s publication led to legislation protecting renters from frivolous evictions, citing a meeting his team held with the D.C. Council about a bill to ban evictions for under $600.
The report “heavily influenced” the bill, according to The Washington Post. Co-sponsored by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Ward 3 Councilmember Mary M. Cheh (D), the legislation temporarily suspended rental evictions, while also urging the Superior Court to raise the filing fees for eviction cases.
“It is the sense of the Council that the Superior Court should raise filing fees for eviction cases to $100 so that serial filers seeking small sums of money from their tenants are deterred from using eviction filings as a mechanism to collect rent from their tenants,” the legislation reads.
McCabe expressed gratitude for the several undergraduates involved with coding and researching to produce the report.
“The report would not have been possible without the work of these students, and the support of the Meyer Foundation and the Provost’s Office in supporting the research opportunities for undergraduates was important,” McCabe wrote.
Rodriguez reciprocated McCabe’s gratitude and said working on the project was a deeply personal experience she hopes will ultimately bring more attention to the painful reality of the eviction crisis.
“The project was very personal for me, since my family and I have faced eviction. No one deserves to be without a home,” Rodriguez wrote. “Being evicted in high school inspired me to want to do more, to help other people facing this issue. Having the honor to work on the report, was definitely life changing. Hopefully, we will make further strides in the future when it comes to housing issues.”