Housing in Brief: Undocumented Immigrants “Self-Evicting” During COVID-19

Plus a new landlord-tenant mediation program in New York, and high demand for affordable units in Orange County, California. 

In this May 21, 2020, file photo, people from a support organization for immigrant and working class communities unfold banners, including one advocating rent cancelation, on a subway platform in the Queens borough of New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

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Undocumented Immigrants “Self-Evicting” During COVID

The Texas Tribune published a feature story on a hard-to-track aspect of the coronavirus pandemic: Undocumented immigrants in Texas are “self-evicting” from apartments, even while eviction moratoriums are in place, out of fear of retribution.

“On paper, an undocumented tenant has the same rights as anyone else during the eviction process,” the report says. “But housing attorneys and tenant and immigration advocates say undocumented immigrants are frequently hesitant to exercise those options. Their fear of the legal system and lack of access to government-funded financial help prompt many to self-evict, or prematurely leave the property.”

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents are sometimes present in courthouses, and have sometimes arrested undocumented immigrants who have shown up for court hearings that a unrelated to their immigration status, according to the report. In some cases, undocumented immigrants don’t qualify for certain government assistance programs that could help them keep up with rent or remain in their homes, the report says. In other cases, some are afraid to seek assistance because they don’t want to attract attention from immigration officials, according to the report.

Because of that, some undocumented immigrants choose to leave their homes even before a formal eviction is filed, turning to family members and community organizations for emergency housing. Immigrants have also lost their jobs at higher rates during the pandemic than other groups, the report notes. But because “self-eviction” occurs without any legal filings, it’s hard to know exactly how prevalent it is, the report says.

“When it comes to eviction, a verbal threat of eviction or lock-out may result in an undocumented person packing up and leaving immediately,” Sandy Rollins, executive director of the Texas Tenants’ Union, told the Texas Tribune. “This could be due to the lack of understanding of their rights, but it could also be from fear of engaging with courts in order to stand up for their rights.”

New Landlord-Tenant Mediation Program in New York

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new mediation program that’s designed to help vulnerable tenants stay in their homes, according to a report on NBC 4. The Landlord-Tenant Mediation Project will allow landlords and tenants to resolve issues around rent payments without interacting with the housing court, the report says, and it is targeted specifically at tenants and small landlords without lawyers. Parties will be referred to the program through “Community Dispute Resolution Centers” in each borough, the report says. The program is meant to “resolve cases before they reach litigation and avoid the long-term effects of an eviction proceeding which can lead to displacement for vulnerable tenants and limit future housing options,” the report says. It will be managed by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants, and the Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit, according to the report. As Next City has reported, similar programs in cities like Philadelphia have been important for helping some tenants and landlords come to agreements that don’t require legal action.

“As the City continues to beat back COVID-19, we must use every tool at our disposal to keep tenants safely in their homes, especially in communities that were already burdened by the affordable housing crisis,” de Blasio said, according to the report. “This project will ensure that New Yorkers aren’t forced from their home during this unprecedented health and economic crisis.”

Community Land Trust Units in High Demand

A community land trust in Irvine, California, found overwhelming demand for newly built affordable apartments in one of its projects, according to a report in The Orange County Register. The Irvine Community Land Trust advertised 80 new affordable apartments, and received 6,818 applications, according to the report. The project contains 24 one-bedroom units, 16 two-bedroom units and 40 three-bedroom apartments, the report said. Rents are based on the tenants’ incomes, and range from $590 to $1,470, according to the report. The project cost $38 million to build, or $475,000 per unit, according to the report. The land was donated by a developer in connection with an affordability requirement, the report said, and the project has some units set aside for veterans, people with disabilities, and people at risk of homelessness. According to the City of Irvine, half of residents overpay for housing. The Irvine Community Land Trust was started by the city and became an independent organization in 2017, according to the Trust’s website. It had built 327 units of permanently affordable housing prior to the new project, and is planning to open another 64-unit townhouse project this year, according to the site.

“Oh my God, we have so much work to do,” Mark Asturias, the trust’s executive director, told the Orange County Register. “We will be in business for the next century at this rate.”

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Jared Brey is Next City's housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.

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Tags: new york citycovid-19immigrationevictionsrenters rightsland trusts

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