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Are Evictions Economic Violence?


An article in The Guardian last year describes evictions as “physical, emotional, and economic violence.” The title — “Evictions can kill: how US communities are trying to break the cycle of violence” — muddies the narrative on evictions and safe living communities. It is true that evictions can have violent, even deadly outcomes. But the person being evicted is usually the one initiating the violence. In fact, the article describes a case in which a woman with severe mental illness stabbed an officer who was attempting to evict her.  Unfortunately, she was subsequently killed by law enforcement in an act of self-defense. Last year in Seattle, a sheriff spent months in the hospital after he was shot while serving an eviction.

When an unstable or malicious tenant is causing violence towards everyone around them, evictions are the very opposite of “emotional and economic violence.” They are necessary protection. As a case in point, a property manager at a housing community in Tacoma explains that 16 units (almost an entire building) remain unoccupied due to criminal activity and drug use occurring in one apartment unit on the bottom floor.

Local policies exacerbate the situation. Last year, the city passed a controversial measure that prohibits evictions during five months of year: November through March. So until April 1, ill-intended residents terrorize anyone who walks by their unit. Allegedly, this has included robbing other residents at gun point as they park to enter their homes and physically assaulting residents walking past their unit.

In short, violent residents are preventing many others from accessing safe housing. And not having the ability to have them evicted only allows the violence to continue. Management at the Tacoma property say that having the building sit empty due to one or two misbehaving residents is not a one-time occurrence, but “has become a normal situation in a lot of areas,” not just in the City of Tacoma.

Stories like this one have to be part of the conversation on evictions and housing. A crisis of unsafe, unhealthy living conditions occurs when one or two harmfully behaving individuals are protected more than their neighbors. And if there is a need for increased housing availability in Tacoma and elsewhere, evictions are one way to maintain and increase access to safe housing.

The issue is part of the larger conversation on homelessness. Pierce County, home to Tacoma, has around 2,148 people experiencing homelessness on a given night — part of approximately 6,500 people connected to the county’s homeless crisis response system. When people experiencing homelessness in Pierce County were asked what caused their homelessness, the most common answers were family crisis, lack of affordable housing, and eviction. While comprehensive data suggests that housing is not the fundamental cause or chief solution to homelessness, affordable housing is of great need and benefit to society.  

We should consider that housing affordability is driven by the cost to build and operate housing, and when an entire building remains vacant due to the inability to evict a dangerous resident, the operating cost is driven up. Obviously, having vacant units contributes to a lack of available housing. It is myopic to think that halting or stalling evictions is any kind of answer to housing affordability, housing accessibility, and the complexities of homelessness.

The Guardian asks how living communities can “break the cycle of violence.” Evicting violent residents is probably a good place to start. Protecting housing communities from residents that create a harmful living environment is vital to safer, more accessible housing for everyone.

Caitlyn Axe

Program Coordinator, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Caitlyn Axe is program coordinator for Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty. Her work has centered on government fiscal accountability, political rhetoric, and addiction with a focus on human dignity ethics. Caitlyn is a graduate of the University of Washington, has interned for a political advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., and has participated in the Vita Institute at the University of Notre Dame. She is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, has contributed at the Federalist, and has made local and national media appearances.