Women and children hurt most by eviction

Social services, charities struggle to help social services, charities struggle to help

Published: Saturday, Feb. 23 2013 11:05 p.m. MST

Mia Carreon, 3, at home in Taylorsville on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013. Carreron's family was recently evicted, but they managed to land on their feet.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

On a recent morning in downtown Salt Lake City, Adriana Carreon stood in front of a judge and begged him not to evict her family from the home they rented in nearby West Valley City.

Seated behind Carreon were her nine children, ranging in age from 2 weeks to 15 years. Although the Carreon children are typically full of unrestrained energy, that morning they were stone silent.

"We hate to rule in these situations," Carreon recalls the judge saying before adding, "but my hands are tied." She was two months behind on her rent. He gave Carreon five days to vacate.

"What does it mean, Mama?" her 6-year-old daughter asked as Carreon turned away from the judge to her children. "What is happening to us?"

Carreon put on a brave face. "Baby we are going to be moving," she said. "But where?" her daughter asked, a note of panic in her voice.

"We'll find something," she said. The truth was she had no idea where they would go or what they would do.

Eviction is a problem that disproportionately affects America's poor, especially poor women with children. It is so common in urban poor neighborhoods that in some ways it has become part of the texture of life. In an analysis of eviction in Milwaukee, Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond found that minority women with low incomes are disproportionately impacted: Black women account for 13 percent of Milwaukee's population but make up 40 percent of those evicted. Housing lawyers in Salt Lake City, New York, Cincinnati and Los Angeles describe a similar phenomenon in eviction records.

The solution to the problem, experts say, might come as a surprise.

Trouble paying rent

The root of the problem, according to Desmond, is that "poor people can't afford to live in America anymore." Over the past 10 years, the cost of housing has increased at historic rates, explained Desmond. For example, in Milwaukee where Desmond conducted his research, the average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment was $466 in 1997. By 2008, that same apartment cost $665.

While rent has gone up, wages have not. Minimum wage increases over the years have been "outpaced by the climbing cost of living," said Desmond. Families living on welfare have not received cost of living increases to their stipends in 10 years, he added. "The result is that the average cost of rent, even in high poverty neighborhoods, is quickly approaching the total compensation of low income families," said Desmond.

"Because such large portions of poor tenants' incomes are devoted to rent, a relatively small unexpected expense can cause them to fall behind," said Desmond. A sick child, a cab ride to see a doctor or a prescription for antibiotics can all derail a family financially.

In Carreon's case, the unanticipated event was the incarceration of her husband in April 2012. Together, Carreon and her husband, who both worked as janitors, brought in close to $4,000 dollars a month. It was just enough to cover their expenses, which included: $1,100 for rent, $500 for utilities, a $185 car payment as well as food and incidentals for their large family. Things were tight, but the couple who always wanted a large family, were making things work.

When her husband went to prison, Carreon who was one month pregnant with her ninth child, found herself trying to keep the family afloat on a much reduced income. Carreon looked for ways to reduce expenses. But there wasn't much fat to cut. She couldn't get rid of her car because public transportation doesn't operate during the early morning and late night hours she works as a janitor. Carreon freed up $150 per month by suspending orthodontic work for her older children. She took on more work and was able to bring in about $2,200 a month.

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