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Evictions in some once-affordable suburbs are on the rise as more people move in


Evictions in some once-affordable suburbs are on the rise. During the pandemic, people looking for more space left high-priced cities like San Francisco and moved to the burbs, pushing out lower-income renters there. Erin Baldassari from member station KQED reports.

ERIN BALDASSARI, BYLINE: (Speaking Spanish).

CARMEN PONCE: (Speaking Spanish).

BALDASSARI: Carmen Ponce lives in a small one-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a two-story building in Antioch. It's a commuter town about an hour's drive northeast of San Francisco.

PONCE: (Speaking Spanish).

BALDASSARI: Immediately when you walk in, you see these big plastic bins stacked on top of each other, ready in case she needs to leave. Ponce lives here with her teenage daughter and 1-year-old granddaughter. They've been in limbo ever since she got an eviction notice last August. Ponce cuts hair at a barbershop in a town nearby and was out of work for about a year because of the pandemic. She fell behind on the $1,300 she pays in rent every month.

PONCE: (Speaking Spanish).

BALDASSARI: She says it was a really difficult time. She was able to survive off savings.

PONCE: (Speaking Spanish).

BALDASSARI: Ponce says it's depressing, but she knows there are a lot of people in Antioch going through the same thing. During the pandemic, Antioch had the highest eviction rate in the San Francisco Bay Area - a rate 22 times higher than in Oakland, Calif., according to sheriff lockout data analyzed by KQED.

CHRIS SCHILDT: We've had this story that's been told to us that the suburbs is the place of white picket fences. And that has been true, but it's never been the entire story.

BALDASSARI: Chris Schildt is the director of the Regional Suburban Organizing Project. Across the country, suburbs are home to the largest and fastest-growing population of people living in poverty, according to research from the Brookings Institution. And since 2010, more than half of all Black and brown U.S. residents, as well as immigrants, live in suburbs.

SCHILDT: So we need to look at and understand what's happening in suburban places like Antioch in order to understand what's happening in this country.

BALDASSARI: Researchers from Princeton's Eviction Lab found that in 1 out of every 6 metropolitan areas they studied, evictions were higher in the suburbs than in the cities they surround - places like Boston, Houston and Seattle. But Schildt says suburban governments aren't well prepared to support these residents.

SCHILDT: We really stopped investing in our suburbs in the '80s and '90s - in community infrastructure, in nonprofits, in social services, in our schools.

BALDASSARI: That includes little support for renters, like tenants' rights groups or rent control laws. But in Antioch, at least, that's starting to change. Renters here have begun to organize, and for the first time, they're demanding new policies to protect them.


JACKIE LOWERY: Hi. Can everyone hear me?


LOWERY: OK. My name is Jackie Lowery, and I'm a resident of Antioch, a renter.

BALDASSARI: Lowery showed up at a city council meeting earlier this year to ask for a cap on yearly rent increases, laws to make it illegal for landlords to harass tenants and to make it harder for landlords to evict.


LOWERY: My family and I moved to Antioch for a better life. But from what I've been seeing in our city with our taxpaying, rent-paying citizens is shameful. You have a rental community in Antioch that needs your help right now.

BALDASSARI: But these proposals are getting stiff pushback from local landlords. Mark Jordan is a real estate broker in Antioch who owns four rental properties. He also manages other rentals for clients.

MARK JORDAN: They use that as income to pay their bills. And most of them are not fabulously wealthy. They're just mom and pop people that we manage houses for.

BALDASSARI: He says he supports measures to hold bad landlords accountable, but the city already has a code enforcement team to do just that. And Jordan says he rarely evicts his tenants.

JORDAN: It's ugly. It's time-consuming. You lose money.

BALDASSARI: If these tenants' rights measures do pass, Jordan says he'll consider selling his properties in Antioch and buying somewhere else, which could make the housing market even harder for renters like Carmen Ponce.

PONCE: (Speaking Spanish).

BALDASSARI: Ponce isn't sure where she and her family would live if their eviction goes forward. She worries their only option would be her car.

For NPR News, I'm Erin Baldassari in Antioch, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erin Baldassari
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