Opinion

6 ways Durham can help reduce evictions -- Phillip Seib

Phillip Seib is a member of the Durham Human Relations Commission.
Phillip Seib is a member of the Durham Human Relations Commission.

The number of eviction filings in Durham County was just over 10,000 for 2016 and again in 2017.

Over the last few months the Durham Human Relations Commission has been seeking to better understand what can be done to address the disproportionate number of eviction filings in Durham County.

On March 6 the commission convened to discuss our findings. We started our dialogue with this statement:

"When a person in Durham County loses their home to an eviction, they may lose their possessions, sense of community, and their children may need to change schools as their family is forced to move. The uprooting of so many residents on an annual basis has the tendency to fracture our community and weaken the cohesiveness of our neighborhoods, religious institutions and businesses. This report is a call to action, not just to our city and county leaders, but to all of Durham.”

We ended the meeting agreeing on six recommendations to our local municipal government (For full report, see bit.ly/2Ixn30a):

City, county and/or community funding for the Eviction Diversion Program, an initiative launched by Duke’s Civil Justice Clinic, Legal Aid of North Carolina and the Durham County Department of Social Services last year.

A means for the city to refer residents to the Eviction Diversion Program.

A citywide campaign “to raise funds for additional and less restricted emergency rental assistance.”

A landlord maintenance fund to help landlords pay for repairs to substandard, affordable housing.

An eviction task force that would coordinate between tenants, landlords, lawyers and service providers and advise city and county officials.

Ask that City Council members read "Evicted," the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Matthew Desmond.

Our methodology was based on the broad concerns voiced by Durham residents, community organizations and the Eviction Diversion Program leadership as presented to the Affordable Housing and Gentrification Abatement Committee within the commission. Our approach was designed to be accessible to residents while discussing the issue of evictions without being overly clinical in language or analysis.

During the committee’s research we discussed and were presented with several ideas, plans and points of action by the following people and organizations:

We participated in meetings with the Eviction Diversion Program, DDSS, and DataWorks. Peter Gilbert, of Legal Aid of North Carolina, provided detailed information on how residents can overcome an eviction filing.

Commissioners sat in on 60 summary ejection hearings and documented 100 eviction filing judgments within a single week in our research. We also discussed the eviction process with county magistrates.

Our commission had conversations with leadership from the following community organizations: Durham CAN, Families Moving Forward, Community Empowerment Fund, Urban Ministries, The Durham Homeless Advisory Service Committee, Durham Housing Authority, Duke Law Center, and Durham Neighborhood Improvement Services among other groups.

Phillip Seib is a member of the Durham County Human Relations Commission. Follow the commission on Facebook (www.facebook.com/DurhamHRC/) to hear about future events, programs and announcements. This post was first published by the N.C. Housing Coalition and is republished with the author's permission.

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