Black Renters Are Most at Risk as Coronavirus Worsens Florida’s Eviction Crisis

Bathsheba Collingwood sits inside her apartment in Orlando on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Collingwood suffers from daily headaches, dizziness, fatigue and insomnia that she believes is from the growing mold in her apartment. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel)

Every few days, Bathsheba Collingwood sprays her furniture and walls with bleach to scrub away new traces of the persistent mold she suspects caused her 3-year-old son’s asthma.

The bathroom pipes have been leaking into her closet for months, leaving puddles on the carpet when she takes long showers. The nails holding her living room floor in place sometimes poke up, stabbing at her feet. In the winter, her heating was unreliable. And as the weather warms, her air conditioning unit isn’t working either.

Still, she’s fighting to keep the two-bedroom apartment on Mercy Drive. If she is forced to leave, the 2007 Acura MDX she spent her stimulus check to purchase from a buy-here-pay-here lot in April will likely be her next home.

“Now, I’m extra afraid,” said Collingwood, 38. “Nobody else is going to take me. Nobody else is going to move me in with three evictions.”

Tens of thousands of people in Florida lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving many at risk of eviction. But renters living in predominately Black neighborhoods were most vulnerable, new data compiled by the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at University of Florida show. The data, which includes two years of eviction court filings for 61 of the state’s 67 counties, provides the most comprehensive look at eviction the Shimberg Center has ever produced.

An Orlando Sentinel analysis of the filings and U.S. Census Bureau demographic data in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties in 2019 and 2020 shows that when Black residents are the largest racial group in a ZIP code, the eviction rate is likely to be significantly higher than in most predominately white ZIP codes nearby.

That was true before the pandemic and it persisted even as state and federal moratoriums and local rental assistance programs dramatically lowered eviction filings, which could ramp up again once those protections — which have failed many renters — are rescinded.

“My district is like a tale of two cities,” said City Commissioner Regina Hill, who represents an area stretching from the skyscrapers of downtown Orlando to the economically blighted neighborhoods on the city’s west side. “I have the economic machine downtown and I have those who make less than $8, $9, $10 an hour, and those who are homeless.”

Hill’s constituents live in the ZIP codes with the largest Black populations in the region. Two ZIP codes in her district — 32805 and 32808, which includes Parramore and West Orlando, where Collingwood lives — consistently saw eviction rates higher than the county average before and during the pandemic.

This is not the sign of a “broken” system, said Nikitra Bailey, an executive vice president at the Center for Responsible Lending. “Unfortunately, it’s working exactly as it’s been designed.”

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SOURCE: Orlando Sentinel, Desiree Stennett

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