Abstract: Evictions in North Minneapolis: Intersections with the Welfare State (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Evictions in North Minneapolis: Intersections with the Welfare State

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR C, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Brittany Lewis, PhD, Senior Research Associate, University of Minnesota - Twin Cities, MN
Molly Calhoun, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Background and Purpose: Single Black mothers face the highest risk of evictions in the United States. Matthew Desmond's book Evicted brought this national crisis from the margins to the center of public discourse. In Hennepin County (Minneapolis, MN) close to 50% of all eviction filings take place in two zip codes in North Minneapolis. North Minneapolis is a community that has been devastated by segregated public housing, redlining, and contemporary gentrification pressures, which has led to a rise in distressed-property investment, prompting a deeper mixed methodological research project that aims to: 1) examine how and why evictions occur from the perspectives of landlords and tenants themselves and 2) bring the voices of those often pushed to the margins to the center of our analysis on housing inequity.

Methods: A model of community-based research was employed using a convergent parallel mixed methods design. A total of 100 residents (68 tenants and 32 landlords) were sampled through a purposive frame. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with each participant who had either experienced or filed an eviction action in the two zip codes within the last three years. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded using ethnographic constant comparison and theoretical framing from the literature. NVivo was also used for data analytic purposes to identify the frequency of codes as well as to explore demographic correlations.

Results: Findings demonstrate distinct tenant and landlord experiences, while similarities exist when these groups discuss the role that social services and city/county/state policy play in their ability to be successful landlords or tenants. Whereas landlords’ self-motivations, tactics for mitigating risk, and the ways they exercise power (retaliation, discipline, and punitive measures) illustrate an imbalance in power, tenants are trapped in a system where they are living one crisis away from eviction. Additionally, tenants are subject to the economic imperatives set forth by distressed property investors who are not compelled to provide safe, affordable, quality housing. However, despite the obvious tension in their relationship, they agree on the inequitable social service process that leaves tenants feeling dehumanized and landlords frustrated with the length of time it takes to receive payments. This is further exacerbated by city/county/state policies that are either components of statutes that are never enforced or discriminatory practices with very little oversight and protections.

Conclusions and Implications: Evictions are of particular relevance to social work researchers, educators and practitioners, as they disproportionately affect historically marginalized communities, due to the intersectional nature of race, class, and gender bias. Additionally, the impact is often reinforced or worsened by interactions with the welfare state, a system that continues to be constrained by neoliberal policy. The rise of housing insecurity in urban centers provides an urgent call to social workers to not only understand how and why eviction actions occur, but to interrogate our systems so that we are breaking the history of housing insecurity rather than reinforcing it.