Children Bear the Brunt of the Growing Number of Evictions in Georgia
By: John Berry, Chief Executive Officer, Society of St. Vincent de Paul Georgia
Reading, writing and residential instability. The three do not go well together, especially for children who are trying to get an education and grow up normally. They live with the harsh reality of not having a place their family can call home.
This is the plight thousands of Georgia families face due to eviction and being unable to find affordable housing. In many cases, one or both parents work, but their income is consumed by rent and they are stuck in temporary housing and unable to get out. It’s estimated that 52% of low-income families spend 50-70% of the money they bring in every month on housing.
While incomes in the metro Atlanta area rose about 10% between 2011 and 2016, average rents increased 48%. For many families, this disparity is too great to overcome and their hope of finding stable, affordable permanent housing remains out of their reach. While many of these families are eligible for federal housing rental assistance, just a quarter actually receive it. But, even if they did, they’d still face the obstacle of finding housing. In Georgia, only 38 affordable housing units are available for every 100 families who need it. If this sounds unsustainable, it is as many of these families end up living in housing they cannot afford. This is the underlying cause of the majority of evictions. More than 56,000 of our fellow citizens are evicted from their homes every year and families with children make up the bulk of this number.
Which surprised Pulitzer prize winning author Mathew Desmond, coauthor of the Harvard Study, Evicting Children. “When I started this project, I thought having children in the home would be a shield against eviction and help keep families from being displaced and becoming homeless,” Desmond said, adding that he found the opposite to be true. “Kids actually increase people’s risk of eviction.”
Merely citing statistics doesn’t begin to tell the whole story of how children are affected by evictions. With the added instability brought on by having to move and seek accommodations with lower rent, children are forced to change schools, sometimes multiple times during the year, often going periods where they are not enrolled in school at all. This seriously interrupts learning and can be very traumatizing to children.
Experts agree that children living in unstable homes are victimized in a variety of ways. According to Gena Adams of The Urban Institute, “The insidious part of instability is that it comes at a kid from at so many different levels, in terms of stress on their parents, losing basic resources and then losing their home. It’s this very core thing of stability of place, where you’ll be sleeping or eating. Housing instability crashes every support system a kid could have. “ It probably won’t surprise you to learn that children whose families have been evicted and forced to move, often to substandard housing with less privacy and no dedicated area for studying, perform worse on standardized tests, are more likely to drop out of school, have delayed literacy skills and higher rates of adolescent violence, all precursors of serious problems they may face in adulthood.
Evictions are sometimes necessary but place a financial strain on our communities by increasing costs for school systems, the judicial system, sheriff’s department, homeless shelters, landlords, and of course the people affected. How much better it would be – and cheaper – if we could reduce the number of evictions in the first place.
At SVdP Georgia, we help prevent evictions every day by providing rent and utility assistance so families can get back on their feet. When eviction does occur, we provide them with support with moving expenses and placement in temporary housing. But, the demand exceeds our capacity. It’s a big challenge, one that requires a lot of groups working together. At SVdP, we’re ready to get started. Can we count on you?