Pilot Program Seeks To Understand Impact Of Its Effect On Eviction Prevention

  • Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Housing insecurity continues to be an issue across the United States with rising housing costs and citizens paying well over 30 percent of their monthly income on mortgage or rent payments. Chattanoogans are not immune to the issue with many paying at least 50 percent or more of their monthly income on housing (County Health Rankings, 2020). Cost-burdened individuals who struggle to pay their bills are not only at risk for eviction and homelessness, but an eviction on one’s record can lead to future housing insecurity, a lack of housing choices, and inhabitable residences. Furthermore, it can lead to increased mental health issues, which creates barriers for individuals to invest in their families and communities (Desmond & Kimbro, 2015).   

According to the Hamilton County Sessions Civil Court, a total of 1,952 property owners filed to evict tenants in 2020 compared to 3,465 in 2019. The decrease in number of eviction filings is largely attributed to the eviction moratorium that was included in the CARES Act that was signed into law in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, through the Eviction Prevention Initiative, funded by the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, and the work done by its partners (i.e., Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise, and Southern Adventist University School of Social Work, over 180 individuals evaded eviction in 2020. The latest partner to join the efforts is Habitat for Humanity. 

The School of Social Work at Southern Adventist University is in the process of conducting a qualitative research study examining the perceptions and lived experiences of tenants in Chattanooga and the impact of housing instability due to the coronavirus pandemic since the summer of 2020. The researchers are also evaluating the perceptions of Eviction Court Watchers (volunteers who attend and compile information on eviction hearings).

To date, the program has interviewed 13 tenants, four court watchers, and would like to understand the lived experiences of landlords as well. As the number of individuals who are struggling with housing insecurity continues to rise, hearing the stories of those impacted is vital to understanding how to prevent future evictions and homelessness. The 2021 point-in-time count in Chattanooga shows 200 households with children who are currently unsheltered (154), residing at an emergency shelter (37), or in transitional living (nine) (Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition [CRHC], 2021). This is an 11 percent increase from the previous year (CRHC, 2020). The number of adult individuals who do not have children in the 2021 point-in-time count in Chattanooga totaled 1,282 with 198 in an emergency shelter, 11 in transitional living, and 1,073 without shelter (CRHC, 2021). This is a 176 percent increase from the previous year (CRHC, 2020) . This is a devastating increase. The EPI researchers are seeking to understand if access to social and legal services is effective in minimizing the number of tenants being evicted, preventing homelessness from ever occurring. 

Most tenants have shared positive perceptions of EPI. One tenant said, “Everybody was so helpful, and I appreciate all the help I got. I definitely needed it.” Another tenant remarked, “Everything was great. I was lucky that I was able to have this experience here…just from the…beginning of the process to the end…the transformation from the staying in the hotel to finding houses.” Finally, one tenant spoke about her experience with EPI, saying, “…like I said again, if you wouldn’t have stepped in, I don’t think I still would be sitting here.” 

If you are a tenant who has received support from the Eviction Prevention Initiative or if you are a landlord who has been confronted with the difficult decision of whether to evict a tenant, your voices and experiences are essential in helping us to understand how to prevent evictions. If you would like to participate in our study, you will not only be fortifying our research but will also be advancing efforts to produce practical solutions to prevent housing insecurity, eviction, and homelessness. 

For more information contact Kristie Wilder at 667-8682 or by email at kwilder@southern.edu. 

Meg Nyweide

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