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Understanding Eviction: What Affordable Housing Has Taught Us

Moving out
February 2019

Eviction affects more than residents and operators, it impacts entire communities. That said, a leading affordable housing nonprofit has found a solution that benefits everyone.

A chain reaction happens when someone is evicted — lives are upturned, and not just those of the evictees. The affordable housing industry is working to prevent this — before rather than after — the subpoena is issued. A recent five-year analysis offers nonprofits, policymakers and for-profits steps toward effective preventative measures.

To understand this complex issue, experts often look to the affordable housing industry because it serves people who are most susceptible.

The nation’s largest affordable housing nonprofit, Mercy Housing Inc. (MHI), recently completed a five-year administrative analysis. It spanned their diverse portfolio of properties and discovered valuable insight into eviction prevention. MHI owns 335 properties with more than 25,000 units. They understand that when people have stable housing, they have more money to spend on food and healthcare and their lives become more predictable. With over 35 years’ experience and a presence in 41 states, MHI is a household name in the affordable housing industry and they serve families, veterans and seniors with homes they can afford. The results of this ground-breaking analysis echo the affordable housing industry’s decades-old mantra: ‘A home is just the beginning.’

Mercy Housing’s CEO and President Jane Graf always says “People need more than four walls and a roof to be successful, they need support to pursue dreams.” MHI provides homes to low-income families in need while offering essential support through a key ingredient — resident services.

MHI routinely explains resident services to people outside of the affordable housing industry when they learn about their model of success. Resident services create opportunity — career resources, education courses and out-of-school classes are just a few of the resident services that MHI offers. Many of these resident services classes – such as financial planning sessions--explicitly target knowledge development that results in eviction prevention. These classes support residents’ ability to pay rent at properties and, at times, gain the stability to eventually move into market-rate housing. Households’ participation in resident services is associated with a 44 percent reduced hazard of eviction. People were less likely to be evicted with the help of these services.

The price tag on resident services has given skeptics of the affordable housing industry cause to claim that it’s superfluous, but this analysis challenges that notion — when people get the support they need, they’re far more likely to pay rent, and that benefits more than just owners and operators. MHI found that resident services programs not only reduce eviction rates but also increase average lengths of residency, meaning that they weren’t as likely to rely on less-stable housing, like homeless shelters and moving between temporary living situations, which are costly and exponentially detrimental to households with children.

Without stable housing, many low-income residents may eventually rely on social services that are costlier when applied as a “Band-Aid” rather than as a preventative means. This is painfully evident with healthcare services and costs. MHI residents spend less than 30 percent of their incomes on rent and 85 percent successfully maintain housing on an annual basis. This has substantial ramifications for local economies with more disposable income to be spent on essentials like food, clothing and healthcare. An MHI home spends an average of 60 percent of their income on goods and services from local businesses.

MHI shares this data hoping that it will inspire the expansion of lease education, early engagement with those at-risk of eviction and improve resident outreach — and not just for their properties. There’s opportunity for policymakers and for-profits. Policy that supports resident services and affordable housing could directly improve distressed communities, resulting in fewer burdens on social services in the long term. For-profits could seize this opportunity to invest in affordable housing with resident services to bolster healthy communities that are business friendly. With eviction affecting lives beyond the affordable housing and real estate industries, there’s a need to continually measure, study and understand the causes of eviction. Affordable housing advocates have stressed the importance of these services for years, and now there’s evidence backing these claims. Communities benefit when everyone has a home — eviction impacts everyone, and we can do better.

About Mercy Housing, Inc.
Mercy Housing (MHI), is a leading national affordable housing nonprofit headquartered in Denver. Established by the Sisters of Mercy in 1981 and in operation in 41 states, MHI has over 35 years’ experience developing, preserving, managing and financing affordable housing. MHI supplements much of its housing with Resident Services, programs that help residents build stable lives. MHI’s subsidiaries further the organization’s mission: Mercy Housing Management Group offers professional property management and Mercy Loan Fund finances nonprofit organizations.

MHI serves tens of thousands of people with low incomes, including families, seniors, veterans and people who have experienced homelessness and people with disabilities. Its mission is to build a more humane world where poverty is alleviated, communities are healthy and all people can live to their full potential. Visit mercyhousing.org.