While a federal moratorium has dramatically reduced evictions in Mecklenburg County, those that have occurred have most often been in some of the county’s most vulnerable areas.
A Charlotte Journalism Collaboration a review of nearly 700 deportation cases from October 2020 to March 2021 found that deportations during the pandemic most often occurred in zip codes with higher poverty rates, higher black populations, and fewer investment in housing than the county, on the whole.
Reviewing writs of possession, issued by a judge after a tenant lost in court and was ordered, provides a six-month glimpse into eviction activity during the moratorium. Records provide insight into who was not protected by the federal decree and still lost their homes.
Evictions in Mecklenburg County have slowed significantly during the pandemic, records show. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office received less than half the number of removal orders in 2020 than in 2019. And 2021 also saw far less than pre-pandemic standards.
But when they did occur, three zip codes in Charlotte’s north, east and west stood out: 28262, 28212 and 28216, where evictions occurred three times more often than the county average.
The geographic concentrations of evictions mirror the situations Floyd Davis encounters with clients who come to Community Link, finding housing for the homeless and working with others to become homeowners.
“If Tryon Street has a runny nose, East Charlotte and West Charlotte have pneumonia,” said Davis, CEO of the organization.
“What the pandemic has really done is uplifted the situation, especially with the ‘poor’ and those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder. They have been hit the hardest by this, and this demographics reflect it. “
To better understand who was deported despite the pandemic, CJC members asked to review physical copies of writs of possession that took place after the federal moratorium came into effect in September 2020.
Due to records retention policies at the Mecklenburg Courthouse, the oldest full month of writs available was October 2020, and reporters looked at a six-month period until March 2021.
The nearly 700 cases represent the available files provided to the journalistic collaboration for examination.
Who was deported to Mecklenburg
Evictions during the six months the CJC reviewed took place in all corners of the county, from Huntersville to Ballantyne, near the airport and stretching east towards Mint Hill.
But those top three zip codes, despite housing just over 13% of the county’s population, account for nearly a third of all cases in the six months examined. Eviction activity in these zip codes occurred at a rate three times or higher than the county average during this period.
Nearly 90% of evicted tenants in these three high-activity zip codes have rented to larger landlords, either in multi-family apartments or in single-family homes owned by the owner 10 or more properties in Mecklenburg County, according to one. review of property records.
Landlords seeking evictions in these zip codes have done so overwhelmingly for non-payment of rent, a trend that is reflected across the county.
These three high eviction zip codes have a higher share of black residents – 51% versus just under 31% countywide – according to an analysis of eviction data by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s Urban Institute .
These neighborhoods are also showing signs of less investment in housing, according to the Urban Institute analysis. There are more single-family homes being rented, fewer renovations or new building permits, but more housing code violations. Home selling prices in those zip codes are on average $ 131,000 lower than in the county as a whole, according to the analysis.
Communities of color were more vulnerable to evictions long before the pandemic, said Sarah Saadian, vice president of public policy for the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
“This is something that we see constantly in all fields, and it is often because they have the fewest resources, the least political capital (and) less access to legal representation,” he said. she declared.
When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued the first federal moratorium on evictions in September 2020, public health officials aimed to prevent homelessness and the risk of viral spread in shelters or overcrowded households.
Tenants who suffered loss of income or illness related to the pandemic were required to sign a declaration attesting to their inability to pay and their efforts to find help such as unemployment benefits or rent assistance. The moratorium does not prohibit evictions for other lease violations, such as criminal activity, or for non-payment for reasons other than the pandemic.
Housing advocates said many tenants fell through the cracks because they were unaware of the requirements, unable to get a lawyer to help them understand their legal options, or had difficulty not directly linked to the pandemic.
The ordinance faced ongoing legal challenges from homeowners and real estate groups, who argued that the CDC lacked the power to intervene in the evictions. A second moratorium issued in July and due to expire in early October was overturned late last week by the U.S. Supreme Court, immediately ending protections.
Across the county, most landlords appear to have evicted, at most, a small handful of tenants, and the majority of landlords appear once or twice in the records reviewed. A few apartment complexes, however, appear frequently in the files.
Among them are The Kelston and The Avalon, apartments adjacent to Albemarle Road, near the soon to be redeveloped Eastland site. The two complexes evicted 28 households combined during the review period, most in December, just as the Kelston was sold.
Both properties are now owned by companies registered at the same Miami address, after The Kelston was sold for $ 36.3 million in mid-December to an LLC affiliated with One Real Estate Investment.
One Real Estate Investment did not return a call for comment.
While the moratorium has not stopped homeowners from seeking eviction, Kim Graham, executive director of the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association, said she believes this is preventing some self-represented small landlords from trying. to get their tenants out.
Business owners have more resources and access to lawyers to successfully evict tenants than small individual owners, she said.
“The lawyers who process evictions, they know the judges, they know the mediators, they know the magistrates and they understand the system,” she said.
A representative for Loebsack & Brownlee, one of the area’s top homeowner law firms for evictions, referred a reporter ‘s appeal to the Apartments Association.
Did the moratorium work?
In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office reported receiving 10,250 possession summons. The office received 4,354 in 2020 and 2,116 this year through August 27.
“The moratorium was not perfect,” said Isaac Sturgill, who heads the Legal Aid of North Carolina housing group, noting criticism from tenant advocates who argued that the protections should have been automatic and that he there was not enough public education and communication with tenants.
“But even though it wasn’t perfect, I think it had a really drastic effect on the number of eviction actions that have taken place over the past 12 months or so,” he said. “With that protection gone now … it’s like free for all at this point.”
The end of the moratorium only accelerates the race to distribute federal rent relief funds to help delinquent tenants catch up.
Rent and utility assistance is available in Mecklenburg via the RAMPCLT program for households facing financial difficulties linked to the pandemic. About $ 11.3 million is still available, WFAE reported this week, with an additional $ 55 million expected to flow through the city and county.
First priority will be given to those scheduled for an eviction hearing, followed by those with the lowest incomes. Apply to rampeclt.com or by calling 980-406-7509.
Renters earning up to 80% of the area’s median income ($ 67,350 for a family of four) are eligible.
Those with other financial difficulties can apply for rent and utility assistance through Ministry of Crisis Assistance
The Charlotte Journalism Collaborative thanks the many journalists and interns who supported this project through research and surveys.
WFAE is one of seven major media companies and other local institutions producing I Can’t Afford to Live Here, a collaborative reporting project focused on solutions to the affordable housing crisis in Charlotte. This is a project of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, which is supported by the Local Media Project, an initiative launched by Solutions Journalism Network with support from the Knight Foundation to strengthen and invigorate local media ecosystems. Find all our reports on charlottejournalism.org.