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Connecticut evictions lead to homelessness and emotional damage

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Jeff Chiu
/
AP

Eviction often leads to homelessness — and emotional damage. People who have faced eviction have reported long-term fears of housing instability, trouble finding a new landlord who will rent to them and mental health struggles.

WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with CT Mirror’s Ginny Monk to discuss her series of articles on eviction as part of the collaborative podcast Long Story Short.

WSHU: Ginny, could you tell us about Elizabeth Rodriguez and her family, especially her 8-year-old son, Mikey?

GM: Sure. So the first time I met Elizabeth in person, she was actually in the hospital in Bridgeport. She has a lot of very serious health problems. She's waiting for a heart transplant. And her family was evicted earlier this year. Since then, her kids have been staying with her sister. And for a time she slept in her car, she was worried her sister would get in trouble with the landlord if there were two adults living there. But her health problems have sort of made that impossible. So one of the things the story talks about is sort of this connection between eviction and health consequences, as well as homelessness and the health consequences of that. So Elizabeth had some pre-existing medical conditions that have sort of been exacerbated by the stress of going through an eviction and being homeless.

WSHU: How's that affected her son, Mikey?

GM: Yeah. So Mikey is a really sweet kid. But he has been, I think, stressed out, he's had some anxiety. He's having to sleep in a living room with his older sister, so sort of the loss of personal space there. And he's just anxious, and he wants to do what he can to help his family. So we included in the story that one of his Christmas wishes was for a new bed frame, because he lost his bed frame in the eviction, and he told his mom to just spend the money she would have spent on toys on getting them a new apartment.

WSHU: He even lost his baby pictures.

GM: Yes. So when they were evicted, all their belongings were sort of put out on the sidewalk, as sometimes happens in an eviction, and it unfortunately rained, ruining things like photos. There was mold on all of their clothing, and they weren't able to get their furniture back.

WSHU: You say between 14% and 47% of homeless families in Connecticut have been evicted. That's a study that you have in your article.

GM: Yeah, there have been several national studies on the percentage of unhoused families who were evicted. So as you can see, there's sort of a very wide range in these studies, which we sort of tried to sum up.

WSHU: But in Connecticut, we've seen a rise this year in homelessness. Is that because the moratorium that we had on evictions came to an end?

GM: There are a few factors that can contribute to that rise. This was the first time in nearly a decade that Connecticut's seen an increase in homelessness. You know, rents are rising and inflation is up, which is really putting a financial strain on many households. And there's just so many people who need help that there are waiting lists for some shelters. Programs are quite full. So all of these things can sort of contribute to an increase in homelessness.

WSHU: How's the shelter system in Connecticut? What is it like right now?

GM: The service providers I've spoken with have sort of talked about how there's just constantly people who are needing help and they're doing everything they can. But there's just a lot of people who need assistance. Many of them, like I said, have waiting lists. There are just a lot of people who need help right now.

WSHU: What about housing vouchers? That's another program that's in place to try and help people who are having a hard time paying the rent. How's that working out?

GM: So Hearst Connecticut Media Group actually recently did an investigation into this. And they sort of found that lots of folks who have these vouchers aren't able to use them because there's not enough housing essentially.

WSHU: Now, what about UniteCT? Elizabeth herself had applied for that. Why didn't that help her out? UniteCT was the program that was put in place to help people pay their rent, during the COVID pandemic.

GM: Correct. So Elizabeth applied for it, but her landlord decided to push ahead with the eviction anyway. And the funds didn't come through until after they had already been forced out of their home.

WSHU: So there's a delay in payments in that program and some of the landlords just don't have the patience to wait for the money to come through?

GM: Yes.

WSHU: Right. So let's talk about New Reach, which is a program in Bridgeport that's trying to do something about this. Could you tell us a little bit more about what they're doing and how successful they are?

GM: Sure. So New Reach has a really high success rate in their eviction prevention program. They have several housing related programs that largely serve women and families. So what they do is they have this intensive case management where they'll almost serve as a mediator trying to help people work things out with their landlords, and help people get connected with other services, such as legal aid, so that they have that support through the eviction process.

WSHU: So bottom line, it's a problem. We're trying to deal with it, but it doesn't seem as if enough is being done.

GM: Correct. I mean, there's just a lot of people who are suffering because of this system right now. And the other thing, which we sort of talked about in Monday's story, is that the effects of eviction can stick with you for a really long time. So the story focuses on a couple of women who had evictions filed and since have really had a hard time finding housing, which is something that's come up in the legislature a time or two, and I think it's likely to come back in this upcoming session.

WSHU: So if you've been evicted, it's harder for you to get another place because the landlord is not too keen on renting to someone who's been evicted before.

GM: Much harder. And the vacancy rate for apartments is very low in Connecticut, around 2% vacancy rate, which means there are fewer apartments overall, for folks to look at. So some of the people I talked to for this series had an eviction filing on their record, and they would apply at dozens of apartments and either never hear back or they would get denied. And the other thing is that one of the women in Monday's story shouldn't have been included in the case. She didn't live in the apartment anymore. And even though she had her name taken off the case in the end because she wasn't evicted, that filing is still publicly available. So she still has problems even though she was withdrawn from the case.

WSHU: Well, the bottom line is that it seems that we just don't have enough housing.

GM: Correct. And that's been a conversation in Connecticut for a lot of years.

WSHU: Well, thank you so much, Ginny. Anything else that I might not have touched on?

GM: I think the only thing I would add would be that I think it's important when talking about housing instability and talking about eviction, to recognize that this is an issue that affects women and people of color and women of color at much higher rates than other groups. So just think it's important that we include sort of that equity portion in the conversation.

WSHU: Okay. As far as you were saying something about legislation, is there legislation in the works in the upcoming legislative session?

GM: Yeah, so there's already been a group that has said that they're going to push for some eviction related legislation, and they said they support legislation that had been previously proposed, which includes some bills that aimed to make those filings not public for so long, just to make it easier for folks.

WSHU: Okay, so statute of limitations on eviction records.

GM: Sort of, yeah. So they're publicly available online for a certain number of years and these bills have said, if you win your case, or if the case is dismissed, essentially, if you're not evicted, that record should be taken off the internet quickly.

WSHU: Okay, so erasure of eviction records after a certain period of time.

GM: Yeah, just removing them from the internet so they're not readily available.

WSHU: Well, thank you so much, Ginny.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.
Molly is a reporter covering Fairfield County. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.