Charlotte's eviction rate is twice as high as some of its peer cities, a new study from national eviction researcher Matthew Desmond shows, although several other Carolinas cities rank even higher.
With an eviction rate of 6.15 out of every 100 renter households in 2016, Charlotte ranked 21st out of 100 U.S. cities, ahead of other Sunbelt cities such as Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, Atlanta, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. For the analysis, Desmond included formal evictions, in which renters are ordered by a court to leave their home, most commonly for nonpayment of rent.
The U.S. city with the highest eviction rate — a staggering 16.5 percent — was North Charleston, S.C., Desmond found. Greensboro (8.41 percent), Columbia (8.22 percent) and Winston-Salem (7 percent) were also both ahead of Charlotte.
"Charlotte has an eviction rate above the national average and above many of its peer cities," said Desmond, a Princeton professor whose 2016 book "Evicted" pushed the issue to the forefront of national debate.
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Evictions are often difficult to study because of widely varying rules and court records that are kept on paper and not digitized in many jurisdictions. Desmond's new Eviction Lab project, released last week, is one of the first attempts to collect and make available eviction data on a national scale.
"Eviction isn't just a condition of poverty, it's causing poverty, too," said Desmond. "It has this massive effect on entire communities. ... We had no way of knowing the scope of the problem."
About 45 percent of renters in Mecklenburg County are considered cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. That leaves many families with little cushion for unexpected expenses, such as a cut in work hours, a medical bill or a broken-down car. About 2.3 million people were evicted in the U.S. in 2016, according to Desmond's estimates.
"You don't need to make a huge mistake to get evicted" if you're a low-income renter, Desmond said. "You don't suddenly wake up today and say 'I'm going to spend my money on a frivolous thing instead of rent.' "
The average rent in Charlotte is up about 36 percent in the past five years, rising to $1,142 this year. That's up $300 a month from 2013. The ongoing demolition and redevelopment of older, cheaper apartments into new, luxury projects has also put more pressure on renters.
Crisis Assistance Ministry, located just north of uptown, sees 200 people a day, about 75 percent of whom are seeking help paying rent or utilities. The average client at Crisis Assistance spends 55 percent of their income on housing, putting them in the "severely rent-burdened" category and leaving almost no wiggle room in their budgets.
Desmond emphasized that eviction isn't just a one-time problem most people get through. It often leads to a downward spiral, with families moving into worse housing, children forced to switch schools, tenants losing their possessions because they can't afford to put them in storage and adults losing jobs because they have to go to court and spend time searching for new housing.
"It causes homelessness, it causes poverty, it causes kids to move schools," said Desmond. "It causes job loss. It causes depression. We bear moral costs for those problems, but we also bear financial costs."
Desmond hasn't studied why Charlotte's eviction rate is higher than comparable cities but said the South in general appears to have higher eviction rates. Of the top 10 cities, all but Warren, Mich., are in the South.
Still, Charlotte's eviction rate of 6.15 percent is markedly higher than some similar cities. Durham clocks in with a 5.16 eviction rate, almost the same as Atlanta, while Raleigh has a 3.79 percent eviction rate and Tampa has a 3.5 percent rate. Nashville's rate is even lower, at 3.4 percent.