Evictions decline welcome

Nov. 12, 2013 @ 05:03 PM

“Yes, as through this world I've wandered

I've seen lots of funny men;

Some will rob you with a six-gun,

And some with a fountain pen.


“And as through your life you travel,

Yes, as through your life you roam,

You won't ever see an outlaw

Drive a family from their home.

-- Woody Guthrie, “Pretty Boy Floyd”

For all the grim picture the famed populist balladeer painted, the folks who carry out evictions for the Durham County Sheriff’s Department seem like pretty mellow guys who confess they often empathize with the people who they are ousting from house or apartment.

Deputy Robert Jackson spends much of his time serving eviction papers, and he gets praise from his supervisors for his even-handed approach, even in tense or risky situations.

“One of the reasons he doesn’t have many problems is that Jackson is really good at defusing situations,” Sgt. Tom Mellown, his supervisor, told The Herald-Sun’s Keith Upchurch.  “When he goes in there, he makes it clear to the people that it’s nothing personal, but that he’s got a job to do. I think they respect him for that.”

The good news in Upchurch’s article in Tuesday’s Herald-Sun was that Jackson is less busy these days – evictions are down. Through Nov. 5, courts had ordered 3,671 – 364 fewer than a comparable period last year.

A 10 percent reduction is welcome – but the notion that nearly 400 people a month are being evicted in our city is cause for dismay. To be sure, some – perhaps many – of the evictions should arouse little sympathy. Drug use or other illegal activity may be involved.

But often, the individuals or families being ushered from their homes are people who have fallen on hard times. We know that even before the Great Recession too many families are living at best paycheck to paycheck, one illness or cut in hours or car repair away from coming up short on the rent or mortgage. And once one payment is missed, it gets harder to catch up until finally foreclosure or eviction are staring them in the face.

The disruption that results is often hardest on children, if they are present. School routines can be derailed, and the stress of frequent moves or at worst homelessness can profoundly set back a child’s development.

At the same time, we understand the needs of lenders or rental-property owners, who hardly can be expected to forego rents or loan repayments. They, too, have expenses to bear.

In the end, we hope that the continued economic dynamism of Durham – and our continued efforts to bridge the divide between affluent Durham and impoverished Durham – will see the decline in evictions continue in the months ahead.