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Rural America Is in the Midst of an Eviction Crisis

New research found that Black rural households have eviction rates four times higher than white households.

Deatrice Edie, a McDonald's employee, keeps her home's belongings packed and ready to go. She hasn't paid rent in several months and expects an imminent eviction, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on May 19, 2021.

Black rural Americans are still feeling the strain of the failed promises of the Reconstruction era and discrimination in lending, as redlining has pushed them away from homeownership into tenancy.

A new report illuminates the struggle: Southern Black counties have higher eviction filing rates than their white counterparts. In four states — Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina — rural counties have higher eviction filing rates that are near or above the national average. The rates are also higher than larger cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

In nearly every rural county, Black renters were overrepresented in eviction filings — even in majority-white counties. For example, in counties that are 20% Black, 50% of evictions are filed against Black households. In counties that are over 50% Black, around 75% of evictions are filed against Black households.

About 17 million people in rural America rented homes in 2018, representing significant growth since 2000. During the same period, more than 220,000 evictions were filed against people in rural areas. White households made up 57% of evictions; however, the rates were four times higher for Black households, according to new research. The findings provide an analysis of the crisis in rural America using Princeton’s Eviction Lab national database.

The crisis isn’t just about economics. It’s also about race.

Poverty and racism in the housing and rental markets are major contributors to why the racial disparities persist, the report stated. Nearly 31% of rural Black residents live in poverty, compared to 20% of the urban Black population.

“While poverty leads to evictions, eviction has never been a strictly economic phenomenon,” the authors wrote. “The effect of race is so powerful that one can explain lower eviction rates in many rural communities in large part through the fact that so few Black Americans live there.”

The current day homeownership gap wasn’t a failure of the system, but an intentional result, said Christopher Tyson, president of the National Community Stabilization Trust, a nonprofit focused on creating affordable homeownership opportunities.

“The homeownership that is disproportionately experienced by white Americans was the result of intentional action by the government and was the result of specific policies that created the reality we have today,” Tyson said.

Urgent Call to Address the Crisis

Despite more affordable rent in rural areas, tenants are more likely to be cost burdened than rural homeowners, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Additionally, they pay more in utility and transportation costs.

With the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s affordable housing programs set to expire on March 22, experts project the crisis will worsen as development and gentrification pushes rural families out. Another issue is the lack of uniform data regarding evictions, which advocates say could benefit such programs to assist tenants.

Organizers demand federal, state, and local governments address the structural inequities by creating new programs and policies to protect Black families. Tyson added that his organization supports legislation such as the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act, a bipartisan bill that would create a federal tax credit to build new construction or rehabilitate affordable housing in distressed areas, which include rural neighborhoods. They are also working with other coalitions and federal agencies like HUD to build on existing programs.

Dara Gaines, a rural researcher and strategy communication engagement consultant, added that part of the solution is to increase wages, as well as provide education on tenants rights, more housing, and universal child care.

“People can then focus on working … and have more flexibility so that they can have money to pay rent instead of having to choose between paying for medical bills or paying for the rent,” she said. “During the pandemic we saw the eviction rate drop substantially, and we see it’s creeping back up, and it’s because a lot of the assistance programs are over.”

Without intervention, the report’s authors warn of continued negative outcomes of eviction on families, including job loss, deeper financial hardship, early mortality, and deterioration of physical and mental health. It also leads to decreased voter turnout and displacement, which increases likelihood of food insecurity, lead poisoning, and academic performance issues for children. By addressing the crisis, rural communities could increase economic growth and reduce population loss.

“We can continue to create opportunities to bring parity, to bring equity to the marketplace and that means we have to bring Black homeowners and others who were systematically excluded from the opportunity into the experience of homeownership,” Tyson said.

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