Large survey of Philly renters shows there are 20,000 illegal evictions each year

The figure represents about 7% of all renters in Philly. And 60% of renters surveyed by Community Legal Services say they’re behind on rent.

The Philly skyline

The Philadelphia skyline in May 2021. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

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A report out of Philadelphia shines new light on the city’s eviction crisis.

Released this month by Community Legal Services and the Housing Initiative at Penn, the data shows there are roughly 20,000 illegal evictions in the city each year. These are evictions where a landlord forces a tenant to move out of an apartment by either changing the locks, shutting off utilities, or harassing them, among other tactics.

The figure represents about 7% of all renters in Philadelphia. Roughly the same percentage of tenants are legally evicted through the courts.

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CLS project manager Lauren Parker said their organization has always known illegal evictions were a “huge problem” in Philadelphia, but never just how many residents were impacted.

“We didn’t have the number for that,” said Parker.

For Osarugue Osa-Edoh, a landlord-tenant attorney at CLS, the new information will be invaluable for any organization that works to help this population. She said whether it’s the city or another agency, requests for funding always come with questions about the scope of a given problem.

“What is always asked of us is, you know, is it worth it? Is this a big enough issue in this city that we need to start allocating resources to that,” said Osa-Edoh.

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She thinks the report, based on more than 6,000 surveys completed by renters last year, clearly answers that question.

“We don’t want to have a city of 20,000 people who are traumatized by coming home and having no options, and yet they’re standing outside with their kids there. And then they have to figure out shelter. They have to figure out where to go to get dinner now. They have to figure out if they can get back in to get their things,” said Osa-Edoh.

The report also found that nearly 60% of the tenants surveyed were behind on rent, owing an average of $2,698. The majority of them — nearly 60% — were Black.

At the same time, more than 80% of respondents said they were concerned about the condition of their home.

“We’re seeing people struggling, borrowing money, taking out loans, etcetera, to pay for homes that are largely in disrepair. And I think that it should and does rouse a sense of injustice in a lot of tenants,” said Osa-Edoh.

The report comes as the city continues to face an affordable housing crisis that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Philadelphia’s Rental Assistance Program — an initiative launched more than two years ago to help renters and landlords financially burdened by the pandemic — is currently out of cash after distributing more than $260 million to more than 40,000 households over the life of the program.

More than 16,000 applications have yet to be reviewed, according to a city dashboard for the program.

On Thursday, Philadelphia City Council approved a budget agreement that includes $15 million more for the program.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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