Evictions uproot communities, negatively impact public health, and create lasting financial insecurity for the people who experience them. Even one single eviction represents a great injustice and a failure of the political system to guarantee the basic human need for shelter. Though eviction is often made invisible, Durham County is the site of a profoundly cruel and devastating crisis of eviction and displacement.
During a typical year in Durham County around 10,000 households receive a first eviction notice (otherwise known as a summary ejectment). Pre-pandemic, 2020 was on track to match that typical rate, with 2,141 summary ejectments filed before the first reported COVID case on March 12th.
The pandemic and the policy actions that followed significantly changed the rental and eviction landscape. For one, eviction numbers went way down. In total, 3,938 summary ejectments were filed in 2020, a reduction from the regular amount by around two thirds. This reduction can be attributed to a patchwork of eviction diversion measures at the state and federal levels, most notably the CDC eviction moratorium and the corresponding NC executive order.
Insufficient Policy Measures
Though fewer evictions happened overall, those perfunctory eviction prevention measures have not succeeded in fully protecting renters. For one, while some existing policies do provide rent relief, the funds allotted are far too few to help everyone in need. The NC HOPE fund in particular was fully committed by November 1st, leaving tens of thousands of people vulnerable to housing precarity.
Furthermore, the CDC order only grants immunity to renters who have lost work due to COVID 19. This leaves a loophole where landlords can claim other breaches of lease in order to remove tenants who fall behind on rent. In short, both financial support and eviction protection policies lack the teeth to address the gravity of the economic and public health crisis.
While tenants face unprecedented hardship, landlords and property managers have not ceased eviction proceedings. In fact, 1,800 evictions were filed after March 12. Of these 1,800 pandemic evictions, a significant 775 have occurred since the September 4th CDC moratorium outlawed evictions due to nonpayment. Though cases vary, it’s likely that many of these evictions may be illegal.
As assistance for tenants comes too little and too late, many landlords on the other hand have succeeded in securing government support. Some notable Durham property owners received support from federal Paycheck Protection Program loans passed by Congress to support small businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tracing a Through Line
Durham has no shortage of landlords and developers seeking to secure profits while tenants face the pandemic, but COVID-19 has exposed several heavy hitters. While local property owners such as Rick Soles often rightfully bear much public scrutiny, evictions are concentrated at older apartment complexes outside the city’s center that largely cater to working class, Black and brown residents.
Many of the owners of these complexes are large scale real estate investment firms looking to generate profit by maximizing rental revenue and minimizing expenses. As such, we can trace a clear line between global speculative capital investment and the loss of safe and affordable housing in Durham County.
The following property owners mass-evicted in 2020:
General Services Corporation LLC | Richmond, Virginia
While many investors have been drawn to Durham’s profitable housing market in the past decade, General Services Corporation has had a presence in the Triangle for nearly thirty years. Since their founding in 1971, they have acquired over fifty apartment complexes across the Southeast and Nevada.
Although their slogan expresses that “Residents Are People First,” GSC attempted to remove more tenants from their homes than any other Durham landlord. GSC filed 274 summary ejectments across their five Durham properties. At least 93 of these evictions were sent to the sheriff to be served after the September 4th CDC moratorium.
More than 60% of GSC’s evictions occurred at Duke Manor Apartments, by far Durham’s single highest eviction property. What’s more, approximately 1 in 15 people experiencing eviction in Durham in 2020 were evicted by GSC.
Dasmen Residential LLC | Ramsey, NJ
Founded in 2014, Dasmen is a real estate investment and management firm with properties across the United States. Dasmen owns at least eight apartment properties in the Triangle, one of which was reported for its severe health and safety issues in 2019.
Dasmen filed evictions on at least 132 Durham households in 2020. Many of these evictions occurred during the moratorium period. Emerald Place Apartments alone was the site of 23 filings after September 4th.
Dasmen received between two and five million dollars in small business loans from the Paycheck Protection Program passed by Congress. Despite this financial support, Dasmen continued to evict tenants at a high rate.
Palms Associates LLC | Virginia Beach
Founded in the 1950s, Palms Associates develops, constructs, and manages both residential and commercial properties. The Palms portfolio includes apartment complexes across Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, spanning over 5,500 apartments in total. Though Palms Associates owns only one Durham property (The Mews at 1800 Williamsburg Road in South Durham), they were 2020’s third highest evictor with 131 filings. 31 of these evictions occurred during the CDC moratorium.
Asia Capital Real Estate Management LLC (ACRE) | New York City
ACRE is a global real estate investment and management firm with offices in New York, Atlanta, and Singapore. According to its website, the company has acquired, operated, developed and made loans on over 22,000 apartments across 75 properties and 31 cities.
ACRE specializes in multifamily complexes such as Foxfire Apartments, a 368-unit property located off Stadium Drive in North Durham. This year, Foxfire residents received at least 100 summary ejectments, 11 of which occurred during the moratorium period. ACRE also received up to 350,000 dollars in support from the Paycheck Protection Program.
Ginkgo Residential LLC | Charlotte, NC
Real estate asset building company Ginkgo Residential owns and manages 34 apartment complexes across the Carolinas. As is typical, Ginkgo’s business model relies on renovating older apartment complexes in order to profit from rent increases. Much of their marketing focuses on sustainability and positive customer service.
Ginkgo received between 1 and 2 million dollars in financial support via the Paycheck Protection Program. Despite this, the company filed at least 97 evictions across their three apartment communities this year.
What We Still Don’t Know
Among the questions we cannot answer is quite simply who gets evicted? Among the recommendations of the Racial Equity Task Force in 2020 were for the County agencies involved to begin tracking demographics of tenants who receive an eviction notice. We know from court watching done by the Human Relations Commission that 95% of tenants that go to their court appearance were Black or Latinx.
We also cannot say effectively how many people are specifically at risk of eviction in Durham County. We know that as of October nearly 45,000 Durham residents had filed for new unemployment claims since the pandemic began. We also know that before it ever started retail and food service workers had seen flat or even declining wages over the past 2 decades. Consequently, roughly half of Durham’s renting households have been cost-burdened for years, while rents and home prices escalated.
Exactly who gets evicted? How many Durham residents are vulnerable to being evicted? How many people self-evict or are illegally evicted? What will happen to the housing market in 2021? Unfortunately, these are questions with no definitive answers. However, what we do know is that without rent relief policies that address the still-worsening rental crisis, such as comprehensive rent relief funds, extended unemployment insurance, and truly robust tenant protections, moratorium extensions only kick the can down the road.
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