With the fall semester gearing up, returning students begin the essential undertaking of finding housing for the upcoming school year. Due to their association with the University, most Penn students have plenty of affordable housing options.
Whether students choose to live on campus, or off campus in the numerous houses and apartments available in the areas surrounding campus, they are provided with a sense of housing security. They know that they will have a home to come back to at Penn.
Consequently, the concept of facing eviction may be a distant, inconsiderable possibility for most Penn students. As we skim through our leases, we may glaze over the language that gives the landlord power to evict tenants following missed payments, or terminate the lease at any time. Many of us probably do not know that in the city, leases that are one year or longer only require landlords to give 10 days notice before beginning the eviction process or that the landlords are also not required to state a Good Cause reason for ending the lease. This year, as we sign our leases, we should take the time to recognize these realities that so heavily impact renters in Philadelphia.
While many students at Penn come from higher income households, who can support their costs of rent and security deposits, many lower income Philadelphia residents cannot afford the burden of rent. According to Community Legal Services, more than half of Philadelphia renters are “housing cost-burdened,” meaning they struggle to afford their monthly rent payments. As a result, one in fourteen Philadelphia renters will face an eviction filing every year.
I did not begin comprehending the enormity of eviction’s relationship with poverty until I picked up Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The book humanizes the eviction crisis by following the experiences of the families that live through it. A tough, at times simply unlucky, financial situation can force families to choose between affording food or a roof over their head.
Although the novel follows the eviction crisis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a similar crisis is plaguing our neighbors in Philadelphia. In 2015, the city of Philadelphia saw 19,328 eviction filings. Statistically, these evictions are more likely to happen in lower income, predominantly African American neighborhoods.
The high number of evictions in Philadelphia is not surprising considering the disparity between income and rent costs. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the annual income needed to afford a one-bedroom in Philadelphia at fair market rent is $39,680. However, given that the U.S. Census estimates the average Philadelphia household income to be around $40,649, it makes sense that a large portion of the city’s population is unable to afford housing costs. This threat of rising rent costs is magnified in gentrifying areas like University City.
Perhaps the most jarring reality of the eviction crisis is that most tenants are not able to obtain adequate representation in court. Currently, around 90% of tenants who are facing evictions do not have access to an attorney, while their landlords do. The lack of legal representation significantly increases the risk of displacement. These displacements from evictions can propel families into poverty and result in homelessness.
As we live out our years at Penn, inevitably moving to new housing units year in and year out, it’s important that we recognize the privileges we are afforded by always having a place to relocate to. While housing should be considered a basic human right, it is too often not treated as one by society. This year, as you sit down to sign your lease, consider the grim realities that face those in surrounding communities.
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UROOBA ABID is a College junior from Long Island, N.Y. studying International Relations. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.