COMMENTARY: Tackling evictions in Dayton to foster housing stability

Throughout our city’s history, people moved to Dayton for opportunity. Thousands of African-American and Appalachian families from the South and immigrant families from around the world chose to make Dayton their home to find a better life.

But we know that the opportunities that drew many of these families to Dayton are not as readily available now, and many of them were never evenly distributed across the city.

That is why I recently announced a new strategic focus on removing barriers to opportunity for Daytonians. This focus will tackle the issues – big and small – that keep people trapped in poverty. And research has shown that an unstable housing situation is one of the most critical factors in determining one’s ability to escape poverty and thrive.

Unfortunately, housing instability is a reality for many in Dayton. In 2016, one out of every 20 renters lost their housing through eviction. Evictions do not occur just because people cannot pay their rent – some happen due to illegal actions or discrimination by unscrupulous landlords, or even just issues with paperwork that an attorney could help a tenant navigate in court.

Ashley, a single mom with a 3-year-old son, received an eviction notice early this year. Ashley works in transportation, and has lived in her apartment for four years. Sometimes money is tight, and her landlord would let her pay a little late if she was short at the first of the month.

But after her landlord died late last year, Ashley wasn’t sure who owned her apartment anymore. She received a form letter from a California company claiming to be the new owners, but the new lease they promised never arrived. Without any other contact from them, she assumed the letter was a scam. When she came up short on rent in January, she wasn’t sure who to contact or where to turn – and then received notice that she was being evicted.

Fortunately, she received a letter from Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, which provides free legal representation for tenants facing eviction. The attorney there discovered that in the confusion around who owned the property, the wrong entity had filed the eviction, leading the judge to dismiss Ashley’s case.

The new landlord chose not to renew her lease, so Ashley will still have to move at the end of March. But the additional time gives her the opportunity to search for a good home instead of having to go to a shelter, and keeps her from having an eviction on her record.

Ashley’s story is not unique. For families whose lives are already unstable and where money is tight, a small change in their housing situation can lead to significant challenges.

As a first step to try to reduce housing instability in Dayton, I have convened a task force that will study the issue of evictions in the city and make recommendations to reduce unnecessary evictions. This task force consists of representatives from Dayton Municipal and Montgomery County Common Pleas courts, tenant advocates, social service agencies, organizations representing responsible landlords, and more. This diverse group will seek to understand this complex issue by examining local data and what other cities have done to help more people stay in their homes. I’m looking forward to their recommendations, and to addressing this difficult issue.

Dayton remains a place of opportunity for many of our residents, but it is my goal to make sure that all Daytonians – regardless of where they live, what they look like, or how much money they make – can thrive in our city.

Nan Whaley is mayor of the city of Dayton.

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