A roundtable discussion Wednesday generated plenty of ideas for shrinking Fort Wayne's home eviction rate, the 13th highest among the nation's large cities.
Among the suggestions: Increase funding for affordable housing from the public and private sectors. Improve legal protections for tenants. Provide better support services for low-income renters. Use lower-cost manufactured housing. Persuade landlords and tenants to take advantage of available options for education and training on their rights and responsibilities.
Perhaps the most frequent recommendation: Expand collaboration among stakeholders.
“Collaboration is a big key to this on a lot of different levels,” said Justin Barker of Pathfinder Services, which assists people with disabilities.
“One organization can't do it all,” he said. “We need each one here at the table and each one in this room to be able to push that needle forward for these low-income households in Indiana.”
Barker was among 10 people invited to participate in the roundtable discussion at Tiffany Heights Apartments on Elmcrest Drive by U.S. Sen. Todd Young. About 40 more people crowded into the Tiffany Heights office, and Young encouraged them to weigh in, too.
Young, R-Ind., said the nation suffers from a “housing affordability crisis.” He has introduced bills addressing it, including legislation signed into law that aims to help public housing voucher recipients relocate to lower-poverty areas.
“Getting people into safe and stable housing saves on health care and education expenses and public safety and corrections,” Young said.
He was accompanied by Matthew Desmond, a Princeton University sociologist and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.”
“We are at a point in this country where we are evicting people not by the thousands or hundreds of thousands, but by the millions every year,” Desmond said. “There are more eviction filings in America every single year than there were foreclosure filings at the height of the (financial) crisis” in 2007-08.
The odds of being evicted triples for tenants with children, he said, noting that a New York evictions court offered child-care services until recently.
“So if we want more family stability and more community stability, we need fewer evictions,” Desmond said.
He said a third of evictions involve tenants who owe less than a month's rent.
“People are getting evicted for peanuts. This doesn't make any sense,” Desmond said.
He and others lamented state laws that allow eviction records to follow people as they seek housing elsewhere. An audience member mentioned that Indiana allows for eviction records to be stuck to adult children living with evicted parents.
Desmond said renters have few resources at their disposal for researching and comparing landlords.
“We don't even have the capacity in most cities to identify which landlords are awesome and which landlords are really breaking the rules, and that's strange to be in the dark in the age of the internet,” he said.
Roundtable participants agreed that affordable housing is in great demand in Fort Wayne.
“Our phone rings off the hook. People walk in the door all the time. ... Our tax-credit properties are full,” said Nikki Gillenwater of New Generation Management, which manages affordable-living communities.
Roundtable participants included representatives of the Fort Wayne Housing Authority, Brightpoint, Vincent Village, Keller Development, Prosperity Indiana, the Affordable Housing Association of Indiana and the Indiana Manufactured Housing Association.
Young and Desmond conducted a similar discussion Wednesday morning in South Bend, which has the country's 18th highest eviction rate among large cities, according to Princeton's Eviction Lab, a nationwide database of evictions. Indianapolis has the 14th highest rate.
Eviction Lab calculates its eviction rate as the number of evictions for every 100 renters homes in an area. Fort Wayne's rate was 7.39% in 2016, the last year measured.
Three communities in northeast Indiana – Waterloo, Grabill and Cromwell – had among the 60 highest eviction rates for small communities and rural areas nationwide in 2016. All three were in double digits, topped by Waterloo's 24.3%, ranked ninth nationally.