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Evictions are headed back to pre-pandemic levels just as rents are spiking


Much of the U.S. is emerging from the pandemic, but the crisis for many renters is not over. Government assistance and eviction moratoriums are running out, and rents are soaring. From Connecticut Public Radio, Camila Vallejo brings us a story of one family's eviction.

CAMILA VALLEJO, BYLINE: In a dimly lit hotel room in Norwalk, Conn., 7-year-old Victoria sits at a desk. She's been staying at this hotel with her family for a few weeks, but she says she doesn't understand why.

VICTORIA: I miss my new bedroom. I had a closet with toys. And I also miss my new Barbies.

VALLEJO: Victoria and her family were recently evicted from the home where they lived for three years. Victor is Victoria's dad. He's asked us to use his first name only because Victor and his wife are undocumented. But they have five children - all U.S. citizens.

VICTOR: (Speaking Spanish).

VALLEJO: Victor says eviction is an experience he doesn't wish on anybody.

VICTOR: (Speaking Spanish).

VALLEJO: He says he would close his eyes and imagine someone taking his kids away because he couldn't provide a roof over their head, and that worry is still very much alive today. As he holds his 3-month-old baby, Victor says they fell behind on rent last spring. Both he and his wife were facing health issues. They were able to access temporary rental assistance in the fall, but that didn't dig them out of the hole they were in, and a state marshal showed up in February to evict them. Victor connected with a local shelter here in Norwalk, which was able to book the family temporary stay at this hotel. Yolanda Mateo is director of client services at Open Doors shelter in the city. She says prior to the pandemic, the shelter helped about 30 households a year. But now...

YOLANDA MATEO: I would say in the ballpark between 40 and 50 households.

VALLEJO: And she says she wouldn't be surprised if the demand keeps rising. Rents are skyrocketing. The National Low Income Housing Coalition says affordable rents for a median income household in Norwalk would be about 1,100 a month. But Mateo says rent for a one-bedroom apartment in South Norwalk is nearly $2,000 a month right now.

MATEO: And that's, like, standard - you know, no luxury. Utilities are not included. This is just a very basic one-bedroom.

VALLEJO: Tenants in Norwalk are not alone. Rents are increasing nationwide. In big metros like Austin and New York City, rents have spiked more than 30%, and vulnerable communities could be impacted the most. A Harvard University report finds during the pandemic, Latino renters nationwide have been twice as likely to fall behind on rent than white renters and subsequently more at risk of eviction. But there's little to no research on how evictions impact undocumented people. Juan Pablo Garnham of the Eviction Lab at Princeton University is looking into this very topic.

JUAN PABLO GARNHAM: When you're undocumented, you struggle in many, many different ways, from some that are very obvious and simple - like language barriers in terms of understanding a contract, if you have one - all the way to having a more unbalanced relationship of power with your landlord.

VALLEJO: Garnham says these barriers often lead undocumented people to live in substandard housing for higher rates. And it's common because many in the undocumented community fear speaking up. One reason data on eviction is hard to come by is because cases involving undocumented people don't often make it to court.

GARNHAM: Many people believe that if you ask for help, that could be used against you.

VALLEJO: Victor says he's not afraid to ask for help, although he worries it could be months before his family has some stability again. But he's hopeful. Daughter Victoria is, too. She starts listing things she wants in her next home.

VICTORIA: I want it to have a pool. I want it to have, like, bunk beds.

VALLEJO: And Victor says he wants to overcome this housing situation and work as hard as possible to give his kids what they deserve.

For NPR News, I'm Camila Vallejo in Norwalk.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Camila Vallejo