The New York Times recently ran a story, Many Renters Who Face Eviction Owe Less Than $600; Can Washington do something to help them? A growing number of politicians think so.   The story notes that most eviction filings are for less than $600.  “Such relatively small sums suggest that, for all of the intractable problems of poverty and affordable housing driving the nation’s eviction crisis, a little intervention could help many people. And politicians in Washington increasingly have such ideas in mind: court translators, more legal aid, mediation — even emergency rent assistance.”

The story notes several federal/national initiatives on which we have reported before:

  • Legislation from Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and a Rob Portman (R-OH) “would create a federal grant program to fund local emergency aid for tenants at risk of eviction. The bill, which would also establish a national database tracking eviction cases, is the latest in a series of federal proposals aimed at a problem that touches high-cost coastal cities and smaller towns alike.”
  • “Several Democratic senators — Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland — introduced a bill this fall that would create federal grants for landlord-tenant mediation programs and translators. In the House, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has introduced a bill that would fund legal aid in states and cities that establish a right to counsel for tenants that is akin to a new mandate in New York City.
  • “And in the Democratic primary, an anti-eviction agenda is now practically a required element of candidates’ housing plans. Bernie Sanders supports a national “just cause” standard, limiting the grounds on which a landlord can evict a tenant. Cory Booker wants to prevent consumer reporting agencies from listing eviction cases won by the tenant. Amy Klobuchar wants to create new kinds of savings accounts that renters could tap in an emergency.”

 The story adds,

Failure to pay rent is by far the most common cause of eviction. Across the 22 states where the Eviction Lab has data covering at least some counties, the median money judgment for cases between 2014 and 2016 was $1,253. Because that total includes other costs accumulated during the court process, most tenants initially faced eviction for the failure to pay a smaller rent sum (which is often not documented in eviction records).

 Nearly half of the money judgments the lab has analyzed in Virginia were for less than the median rent in the census tract where the eviction occurred. In North Carolina, that’s true in more than 40 percent of cases. Across the 22 states, about a third of money judgments were for less than the local median rent.

 . . .  

One recent study linking eviction records in Cook County, Ill., with credit report and payday loans data suggests that policy interventions to the court process itself may be too late to help many poor families. The study found that in the years leading up to an eviction filing, tenants who would ultimately wind up in court had mounting and substantially higher debts, compared with random tenants in the same neighborhoods.