Editor’s note: These letters to the editor are from Fresno State students who helped Drs. Janine Nkosi and Amber Crowell research the eviction situation in Fresno:
Right-to-counsel law for tenants
Every year, thousands of households in Fresno County are evicted from their homes. Evictions are unfair, especially due to huge disparities in legal representation between tenants (1%) and landlords (73%). I don’t think justice should be dependent on financial ability.
“Our cities have become unaffordable to our poorest families, and this problem is leaving a deep and jagged scar on our next generation,” says Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” Renters are evicted for helping loved ones who could otherwise be homeless, or for nuisance complaints, which are especially dangerous for people experiencing domestic violence. This just doesn’t seem right.
At Fresno State, I’m learning how to put knowledge into action through a community-based research project. I’m working with classmates, professors, and Faith in the Valley, Fresno. We examined 1,000 eviction cases from 2016. I learned that only 12 tenants had legal representation! I was shocked. As Americans, we say everyone has a right to justice under the law. If that’s true, then we should pass a right to counsel ordinance. If L.A. and SF can do it, why not Fresno? Let’s be a city that holds true to our values. Right to counsel will help protect the rights and freedoms of tenants in eviction cases.
Lauren B. Childers, Madera
True and false ideas about evictions
Misconceptions: Evictions are the result of repeatedly not paying rent on time. There are many resources, but people refuse help.
Reality: It’s common to get evicted even when rent is not owed. And, there aren’t many programs to help renters when they do fall on hard times.
We found that nearly half of all evictions are triggered when people are a month or less behind on rent. Sadly, we only found only two organizations that offer any kind of rent assistance, and they are underfunded or help with as little as 10% of rent owed. While examining court cases, one very disheartening case was of a 21-year-old single mother who was evicted along with her 2-year-old son for a domestic disturbance. The police arrived to find “evidence of blood” and an “altercation in her unit.” You’d think this would bring her relief, but it only brought her an eviction. Matthew Desmond states “without stable housing everything else falls apart.” For this young mother, I can only imagine how her life was affected by the eviction process.
I urge you to open your mind and your heart and support local efforts to bring much-needed relief to our community.
Madalyn Hurtado, Fresno
Housing becomes too expensive
For most, the golden rule is, “Treat others as you want to be treated.” If this is true, then seeing injustice and not fighting that injustice is just as bad as creating it myself.
I am a 22-year-old Fresno State student, and the world after graduating is daunting. I see peers afraid to graduate knowing that many who graduate are burdened with student loans and the worry of how they will afford housing. In our data, we found seven Fresno State students who were evicted. They are left with the added financial costs associated with an eviction filing and a mark on their credit report for seven years. When you can’t make enough to house your family, or you are evicted and can’t afford legal aid, where can you go?
Many in our community are forced out of housing due to the cost of living. Many will say, “Work harder!” When people are working three jobs and still cannot afford housing, there must be a problem. And when those who are evicted aren't provided with legal representation, it is clear that the system needs attention. Isn’t it ignorant to say they “aren’t working hard enough”?
Lauren Wiksell, Fresno
Eviction, poverty and red-lining
It’s time we take a look at the issue of eviction in Fresno. I participated in an eviction project at Fresno State. We studied 1,000 eviction cases from 2016 and found that many people are forced out within three days over lack of one month’s rent or less. Fresno’s eviction rate is at 2.74%, which is 1.91% higher than the state average and .40% higher than the national average, which contributes to our current poverty rate of 28.1%.
Matthew Desmond, author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” made the point that if people are victims of housing discrimination because they are poor, they have little chance of escaping poverty. It’s not surprising to see that a neighborhood map of eviction rates matches the areas of poverty in Fresno, which both echo the historical redlining map of Fresno. This is one case of many that shed light on Fresno’s history of segregation; a history that has left a longstanding effect on its community and must be addressed.
I urge the community to reflect upon this message from Desmond: “Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”
Denise Rogers-Heydt, Fresno