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Gender dynamics are a factor in evictions, researcher concludes

Posted Jun 19, 2014 5:45 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Gender dynamics are one reason that tenants who are evicted in Milwaukee’s minority, low-income neighborhoods are more likely to be female than male, a study concludes.

In Milwaukee’s high-poverty black neighborhoods, one male renter in 33 and one woman in 17 is evicted, the study found. Women from black neighborhoods represented only 9.6 percent of the population in Milwaukee, but they accounted for 30 percent of the evictions.

In an article for the Washington Post, Harvard sociology professor Matthew Desmond gave several reasons for the disproportionate number of female evictions. Women in high-poverty black neighborhoods are more likely to work than men, but the working women earn less than working men. Children can also be a problem for female tenants because landlords may fear government scrutiny if the children test positive for lead poisoning, for example, or if child protective services are alerted because of unsafe or unsanitary living conditions.

“But the interactions between predominantly male landlords and female tenants is also a culprit,” Desmond writes, “and it often turns on gender dynamics.” Men who fell behind on rent often went directly to the landlord. The result was that men often offered to do maintenance or other work in exchange for a break on rent. Women, on the other hand, tended to avoid confrontation and didn’t negotiate with their landlords.

The Washington Post article was adapted from a research brief (PDF) published by the MacArthur Foundation. Researchers examined nearly 30,000 eviction records from 2003 through 2007, interviewed 251 tenants in eviction court, and followed 11 families through the course of their evictions.

Harvard Magazine also wrote about Desmond’s eviction research, which began when he lived for four months in a poor, predominantly white trailer park in Milwaukee and for nine months in a rooming house in a poor, predominantly black neighborhood.

Desmond says thousands of evictions could be prevented if emergency funds were provided to tenants who find themselves in a jam because of circumstances such as a lost job or a medical emergency. He also recommends free legal representation for low-income tenants facing eviction.

He notes a South Bronx legal assistance program that helped more than 1,300 families in a three-year period, preventing evictions in more than 85 percent of the cases. The program cost $450,000 but saved an estimated $700,000 in shelter costs.

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