A proposal for new eviction prevention interventions
by Sandra Ceron and Olivia Rosenthal
Current State of Eviction Prevention
“I felt really alone. No one was there on my side.” “I didn’t have any form of help because I thought I couldn’t afford help.” These are some of the comments we heard from tenants over the past few months when asked about what the eviction process felt like.
It is difficult for tenants to navigate a process that is foreign to them and needlessly complicated. Resources online are overwhelming, often outdated, or may be relevant to another jurisdiction. While tenants’ organizations may host in-person educational workshops, they are often during the work day and tenants have little bandwidth to pursue efforts that can feel like a chore on top of an already hectic schedule when not in a moment of crisis.
Eviction prevention efforts right now are not working. Tenants need to have access to information about their rights and duties and have tools that help them to better manage their housing-related needs to prevent evictions from happening in the first place.
Why is eviction prevention important and how should we address it ?
Evictions hurt everyone. Evictions hurt tenants who lose their homes and suffer emotional, logistical, and financial consequences that will follow them long after they leave. Evictions hurt landlords, who have to turn the unit, often lose a few months of rent, and put financial resources into securing new tenants. Landlords too often face stressful personal financial situations and may have real emotional ties to their tenants. Evictions hurt whole communities that suffer when residents are constantly moving.
Improving tenant education and giving tenants useful tools to better navigate their housing related needs represents a real opportunity to prevent evictions.
First targeted tenant education focusing on common points of misunderstanding has the
the potential to prevent evictions and help keep tenants stably housed.
Second, eviction prevention efforts need to focus not only on the mismatch between common areas of misunderstanding and currently available tenant education, but also on the form of education. We need to meet tenants where they are. If tenants are relying on online resources for eviction-related questions, we need to ensure those online resources are correct. If tenants are already relying on trusted community members for everyday questions and concerns, we need to leverage those existing relationships as points of intervention.
Third, we need to recognize the importance of tenant organization to encourage a culture where tenants feel comfortable communicating with their landlords, to create communities to target educational outreach towards, and to increase the likelihood of connecting tenants with legal representation.
Finally, effective eviction prevention efforts need to be focused not only on education and on building healthy renter habits but also on preparing for a conflict in case it still arises. To that end, we believe there is real value in a tool that allows tenants to keep all housing information and related documents and requests in one place to promote transparency. We hope this will help tenants and landlords better manage their interactions and allow tenants to be in better standing in case of conflict.
In light of the research and interviews we have conducted, we propose a new comprehensive eviction prevention toolkit, made up of five key components:
Train Community Leaders
With the current complicated, and often incorrect, online information and the hassle of calling or going to a legal aid or tenants’ rights organization, tenants expressed that it would be incredibly helpful if individuals who are already well integrated in their lives could be equipped with housing information. “Meet tenants where they are,” a fair housing organizer told us. To this end, we propose a partnership with Project Sentinel and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley to host training sessions for community leaders on commonly asked tenant questions and points of misinformation. These leaders will include: faith-based leaders, charter school employees (who parents necessarily interact with due to mandatory school volunteer requirements), public librarians, and barbershop employees to name a few.
Distribute Clear and Targeted Materials
We will put together pamphlets that clearly answer the commonly asked tenant questions we heard repeatedly in interviews: Can I withhold my rent if repairs are overdue? What do I do when there is a code violation? What do you do when you receive a termination notice? How do I give my landlord notice I am moving? Can my landlord raise the rent by this much? What does a change in building ownership or management mean for me? Can my landlord enter my unit? These pamphlets will also include links to community resources, in an easy-to-read, visually appealing format. These pamphlets will be provided to community leaders in training sessions. The pamphlets will also be distributed at places tenants frequent including salons, libraries, grocery stores, bus stops, and community centers.
Correct Online Misinformation
We will correct online misinformation on Nextdoor and Reddit. We will enlist the help of Stanford volunteers who in conjunction with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley will scour Reddit and NextDoor, searching the common tenant questions above and writing responses and corrections. A partnership with the Law Foundation will ensure the comments have the seal of legitimacy. We also hope to present to Google’s Civics Team in January examples of when the featured “snippet” of a search displays incorrect or outdated information (e.g., the featured snippet for “how much can my rent be raised in California?” is an outdated answer).
Connect Tenants To One Another
We hope to connect tenants to their neighbors, both in their building or building complexes, through a secure messaging board. We intend to either build this platform ourselves or to discuss with NextDoor the possibility of building the capability to connect users to other users in their apartment complex. We will advertise the existence of this platform to the tenants and organizers who attend Project Sentinel and Law Foundation Trainings, along with other tenant organizations. We hope connecting tenants with their neighbors will encourage tenants to bring up issues with their units to the landlord or outside resources (as they will be more encouraged to do so if for instance their neighbors come forward with them), will make it easier for tenants to find legal representation as legal aid organizations have indicated increased willingness to represent groups of tenants as opposed to individuals, and will represent an important community toward which to target tenant educational materials.
Build an app to help tenants organize all rental-related information
We propose to build an app to help tenants manage their housing information in an easy way. This app will include features that will allow tenants to keep an updated record of their rent payment receipts and a record of the repair requests to landlords. This app will also integrate the pamphlets previously described and will provide a comprehensive list of available legal aid for tenants who are going through the eviction process. This app will help encourage transparency in the landlord-tenant relationship and allow tenants to be in better standing if any conflict arises.