The hidden health costs of eviction


JUDY WOODRUFF: Across the U.S. every year,
millions of people are forced out of their homes. While these evictions are usually thought
of in economic terms, a problem of housing supply and income, a growing body of research
is showing that evictions also take an enormous toll on people’s health. William Brangham recently traveled to Richmond,
Virginia, a city with the second highest eviction rate in the nation. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For Sergeant Larry Trotter
and Deputy Juan Survellon of the Richmond Sheriff’s Office… MAN: Hello? Sheriff’s Office. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: … this is what a typical
morning looks like. SGT. LARRY TROTTER, Richmond City Sheriff’s
Office: The average for us would be anywhere from 40 to 50 evictions a day. MAN: Go ahead, put your shoes on. I’m going
to need the dog be taken out as well. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: They crisscross the city
serving evictions. SGT. LARRY TROTTER: I get there, and people
want to curse me out. But I understand that. So, you have got to give them their chance
to vent, because they’re losing their house, their home. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: It’s a scene that unfolds
in Richmond more often than almost anywhere else in the country. And those evictions can
stay on a renter’s record for at least a decade. MARTIN WEGBREIT, Central Virginia Legal Aid
Society: In the city of Richmond, there are roughly 18,000 eviction lawsuits filed every
year. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Martin Wegbreit is an attorney
at the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society, a nonprofit that represents and advocates
for low-income tenants. He says Richmond’s eviction rate spiked for many reasons MARTIN WEGBREIT: We have a shortage of affordable
housing. We have a poverty rate of 25 percent in the city. We have gentrification. We have
a history of racial segregation, state-sponsored racial segregation. So it’s all of those factors
combined. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Virginia has long been considered
a friendly state for landlords, with a host of laws that make it cheap, quick and relatively
easy to evict tenants. MARTIN WEGBREIT: The filing fee to file an
eviction lawsuit in Virginia is $58. By comparison, in Alabama, it’s $250. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But that ease also exacts
a real toll on the people being evicted. Latisha Lee is a single mother who lives in
public housing in Richmond. When you get that knock on the door, what
is that like? LATISHA LEE, Richmond Resident: It’s scary.
Like, your heart will drop, and you don’t know what to do. And, like, in my case, in
most — a lot of other people’s cases, they don’t have nowhere else to go. Like, where
they’re at is where they depend on to lay their head every day. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lee works seven days a week
as a home health aide, feeding, bathing and caring for elderly clients, but, even so,
she says she’s constantly afraid she won’t have enough to pay her rent. LATISHA LEE: They will put it on your door
and just walk away. And, sometimes… WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s the notification
on the door that says, you’re being evicted. Get out. LATISHA LEE: Mm-hmm. They will give you a
certain — like, they will let you know, like, if you still haven’t paid this by this day,
then you have to be gone within a matter of this time, that the sheriff would be there. And that happened to me like three or four
times. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Lee says she’s always been
able to come up with enough money to avoid eviction. But she says her family is still
living right on the edge. They had to recently move for a more pressing
issue. Her last place made her son Nyshawn’s (ph) asthma much worse. LATISHA LEE: He do the inhalers, he do treatments.
He do a Flonase, and then he has actual medicine he takes. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: That’s a lot for a 4-year-old. LATISHA LEE: Yes. But he done got used to
it. He know how to do it all by himself. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: She says their old apartment
had rats in the walls, and air vents were covered in mold. LATISHA LEE: My doctors even said we can’t
be in the apartment. We got to leave, because it’s a health hazard. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The majority of low-income
renting families in the U.S. spend over 50 percent of their income on housing. That’s
according to Princeton’s Eviction Lab. And according to Kathryn Howell and Ben Theresa
of Virginia Commonwealth University. That often forces families to accept substandard
housing after they have been evicted. BENJAMIN TERESA, Virginia Commonwealth University:
This is a problem that is disproportionately felt by black people, and in particular black
women. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The pair has spent the last
few years mapping exactly where evictions are happening in Richmond. KATHRYN HOWELL, Virginia Commonwealth University:
When you look at the preponderance of unsafe and unfit structures, you see a lot of overlap.
In the neighborhoods where we have high eviction rates, we also have high numbers of code violations
in these buildings. DR. MEGAN SANDEL, Boston Medical Center: It
really is where you live that actually may be the most important part of your health. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dr. Megan Sandel is a pediatrician
at Boston Medical Center who has written extensively on the links between housing and health. She
led a team of researchers who interviewed more than 20,000 families in five cities. DR. MEGAN SANDEL: We found that those families
that were homeless and the families that were behind on rent had very similar adverse health
outcomes, which signaled to us that homelessness is bad, but behind on rent is just as bad
for kids’ health and their parents. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: A 2018 report out of Seattle
found that mental health was the most commonly cited complaint of those facing eviction,
including varying levels of depression, anxiety and insomnia. And even for families not facing eviction,
housing instability can be just as detrimental. CARMEN CANDELARIO, Richmond Resident: I have
to continue to make believe that everything is OK. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Back in Richmond, Carmen
Candelario has been living paycheck to paycheck for years. She now works two jobs, a translator
for a local hospital and a hotel banquet server. CARMEN CANDELARIO: And my pictures had the
dots everywhere. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The mold growing on your
pictures? CARMEN CANDELARIO: Yes. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: She and her daughter have
moved four times in the last eight years because she says the homes were all unsafe to live
in. A little over a year ago, she moved into this
rent-subsidized apartment. But, almost immediately, her 12-year-old daughter, Amidah (ph), started
having health problems. CARMEN CANDELARIO: She had a lot of breathing
problems. She had a lot of hives. She had a lot of fever, shortness, out of breath,
which I thought was due because of asthma, but we were allergic to the apartment. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Candelario complained about
what she said was frequent mold and dampness in the apartment. But she claims the landlord
ignored her. She believes it’s still making her daughter sick and says it’s caused a new
problem for her. CARMEN CANDELARIO: So, last year, she missed
out on 27 days of school. Within that 27 times of her being absent, I also called out 27
times. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So that you could be home
with her when she was sick? CARMEN CANDELARIO: And taking her to her doctor’s
appointments and picking her up from school. I’m on my last lifeline, because if I continue
to call out due to health issues, I am fired. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Last fall, Richmond’s Mayor
Levar Stoney unveiled a pilot program to help about 500 families avoid eviction over the
next year. The program set aside nearly half-a-million dollars to help tenants pay overdue rent. LEVAR STONEY (D), Mayor of Richmond, Virginia:
Housing is foundational. It’s the vaccine to poverty. And so if you are able to have a safe, quality
roof over your head, and then that gives you the ability to put food on the table, that’s
going to help you rise up that economic ladder. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Meanwhile, Latisha Lee says
she’s tired of having to live in places that she says make her son sick, but she can’t
afford anything better right now. Does he understand any of this stuff that’s
going on? LATISHA LEE: I don’t think he does. He just
know he tired of being sick. That’s all he could tell me is, “Mommy, I don’t want to
be sick no more.” WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Really? For the “PBS NewsHour” I’m William Brangham
in Richmond, Virginia.

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