As eviction ban lifts in Franklin County, data shows minority areas disproportionately affected

NBC4 Investigates

Advocate: Lack of affordable housing, evictions during pandemic are barriers to Black and brown wealth

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A diverse crowd files into a Franklin County court room Thursday for another morning of eviction hearings.

“March 15th, my ceiling caved in in my bedroom,” said Traci Vance, a single mom of five.

The house Vance just moved out of is in disrepair, but both her and her landlord say it’s the other’s responsibility. Yet neither can handle the costs.

“I even lowered her rent for her because I felt sorry for her,” said Vance’s landlord, who refused to be identified. “But this is how you get treated as a landlord when you have feelings for a single mother who’s trying to help people. You get kicked in the butt.”

At this point, Vance just wants to avoid an eviction on her record, knowing it will hurt her chances of finding another place to live.

“I’ve cried multiple times within the last week,” she said, “not knowing where I’m going to go with my next move.”

After a Franklin County municipal court announced Thursday it will not enforce the White House’s eviction ban, thousands of families are at risk of losing their homes as the COVID-19 pandemic catches new wind.

But as evictions are expected to increase, not all neighborhoods in Ohio’s largest county may experience them equally.

By cross-referencing census race and ethnicity data with eviction filing numbers collected by the Housing Stabilization Coalition, NBC4 Investigates found Franklin County ZIP Codes that are more heavily populated with non-white persons disproportionately saw the most eviction filings in the first six months of this year.

Despite Franklin County being 33.2% non-white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 estimates, the top six ZIPs for eviction filings were less white than the county. And the top two ZIPs — 43232 and 43213 — are 69.2% and 64.7% non-white, respectively.

At the Columbus Urban League, president Stephanie Hightower says phones have been ringing off the hook this week after the nationwide eviction mortarium – in place through much of the pandemic – expired.

“Because of COVID, we have been averaging, probably on a weekly basis, usually about 200 calls a week, specifically for housing,” she said. “Now that reality has become 250 calls-plus one day.”

The Urban League has long been a trusted resource for minoritized communities, and Hightower says stories like Vance’s are becoming more common.

“You have people of color who are either low wage individuals, or people who do not have a job – that their housing has been compromised because of COVID, and we have to figure out how to get them stabilized,” she said.

When NBC4 spoke to Hightower on Tuesday, she said the Urban League had a backlog of 825 applications for housing assistance, which involves more than just cutting a rent check.

“It’s about what now do we need to do to keep you stabilized?” she said. “Is it a job? Is it new housing or some other housing?”

The next step, she said, is to bring more affordable housing to Columbus, because if families don’t have the resources to stay in their homes long term, the cycle will just repeat.

“COVID’s going to have a long-term effect on wealth building and generational success for Black and brown people,” Hightower said.

Hightower, who is part of a housing consortium for the city working with developers, bankers and engineers to find viable ways of putting housing back within reach for lower income families, noted there are Black developers who want to build affordable rentals in Columbus.

But the problem, she said, is that keeping new affordable housing financially viable has just been too challenging for those developers.

People falling behind on rent or in need of other rental assistance can apply through IMPACT Community Action.

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