Preventing Eviction and Homelessness With Emergency Assistance and Court Intervention

While Poverty and Affordable Housing Crisis Continue to Drive Homelessness, Short-Term Solutions Could Reduce Problem

Eviction strongly correlates with poverty and economically devastated neighborhoods and can often lead to homelessness.

The New York Times The Upshot reported on December 12, 2019 that “Many Renters Who Face Eviction Owe Less Than $600.”

In New Jersey last year, NJCounts 2019 asked households experiencing homelessness on the night of January 22, 2019, to share the primary factor that contributed to or caused their homelessness And 796 households (11.8% of the total number of households counted) in New Jersey gave eviction or risk of eviction as the cause of their homelessness. 

Monarch Housing Associates has coordinated NJCounts since 2014 as commissioned by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. Monarch is proud to partner with local governments, service providers, community advocates and volunteers to conduct NJCounts as we work to collect critical data that assists communities in developing a deeper understanding of the need as they work to end homelessness.

Imagine if renter households at risk of homelessness who owed less than $600 could be triaged and helped through expanded local coordinated assessments? According to the “snapshot” NJCounts, the number of households experiencing homelessness in New Jersey could be reduced by more than 10%.

Emily Badger reports in The Upshot of eviction proceedings stemming from debts of $127, $301 and $516. Late fees and court costs can pile up on top of debts relating to nonpayment of rent.

There are proven interventions and strategies that work to prevent eviction. The City of Newark’s Office of Tenant Legal Services is working to protect the city’s low-income tenants from eviction. Curbing unwarranted evictions can keep a household out of a homeless shelter or off of the streets.

Some U.S. Senators in Congress are proposing legislation that would provide emergency assistance to prevent eviction, a system to track evictions, and funding for mediation and translators. And Democratic candidates are also talking about legislation that would prevent eviction.

“Such strategies most likely would not address the structural problems of sluggish wage growth and a scarcity of low-cost housing that underlie the eviction crisis. But they imply that even if eviction is a necessary remedy for landlords, perhaps there could be less of it.”

Decreasing eviction could help end homelessness in local communities while advocates and policy makers could continue to work to address poverty and expand affordable housing.

Sociologist Matthew Desmond uses data from his Eviction Lab (here in New Jersey at Princeton University) to make the case for rental assistance to prevent eviction, especially when eviction proceedings stemmed from failure to be able to pay a small monthly rent payment.

For households struggling to pay rent month to month, even one small crisis puts them at risk of homelessness.

“Most families in poverty that are renting are spending half their income on rent, with no margin for error,” said Mike Koprowski, who leads a network of advocacy groups through the National Low-Income Housing Coalition that has pushed for emergency assistance grants. “There’s no margin for the broken-down car, the unreimbursed medical bill, the hours cut at your job.”  

Koprowski leads the NLIHC’s Opportunity Starts at Home Campaign.