Urban Institute wins national award for project on evictions

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) presented UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute and Mecklenburg County its annual G. Thomas Kingsley Impact Award in recognition of a research project related to the effects of evictions.

Tens of thousands of people a year are evicted in Mecklenburg County, but the full impact is hard to see. Court data on evictions is often incomplete or accessible only in paper files, difficult to compile and access. Demographic data on who is evicted, and for what reasons, is not comprehensively collected.

A 2017 project by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and Mecklenburg County sought to change that. For the first time, by combining data from the court system, Sheriff’s Office and thousands of eviction cases filed on paper that were collected and processed by volunteers, a complete picture of evictions in Mecklenburg began to emerge.

 “Their efforts to analyze and report on eviction data inspired many to act and change local policies and spending. Mecklenburg County allocated funding for the first time for legal assistance for residents facing eviction; a group of CEOs sponsored nonprofits to attend eviction prevention training; banks donated their legal staff’s time to represent tenants facing eviction; and local philanthropy continues to keep attention on the issue by convening a citywide working group on the issue,” NNIP officials wrote.

Mecklenburg County allocated $300,000 to legal representation services for people facing eviction, for the first time, in fiscal 2019. Legal Aid of North Carolina also developed a fact sheet detailing tenant rights to go with every eviction served, since many tenants did not know what their rights were, or that they even had any. 

“UNC Charlotte’s reports inspired Mecklenburg County government, businesses and philanthropy to act and change local policies and spending,” wrote the NNIP. 

For decades, eviction was a problem that was not widely studied. But evictions have been gaining more attention since the publication of Princeton University professor Matthew Desmond's best-selling 2016 book “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” 

Among the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute project’s findings:

  • 2,373 eviction cases a month, on average, were filed in Mecklenburg County
  • 84 percent of tenants were not present at the small claims court trial during the month volunteers tracked every eviction proceeding
  • In contrast, 82 percent of landlords had legal representation in court 
  • Neighborhoods with the highest eviction rates tended to be largely African American, indicating a disparate impact of the eviction system 
  • The average rent owed by tenants facing eviction was $1,044