Mahoning County’s high eviction rate defies fast fix
It should come as no great surprise to anyone casually familiar with the demographics of our region that Mahoning County ranks well above state and national averages for its rate of tenant evictions.
After all, eviction, the action of legally expelling someone from a property, goes hand in hand with poverty and joblessness. As of November 2018, Youngstown led the state in high unemployment, and the Mahoning Valley continues to record poverty levels far above state and national averages.
That’s why data contained in a recent Page 1 story in The Vindicator by Reporter Justin Dennis fails to surprise. It placed the rate of tenant evictions in Mahoning County at nearly 4 percent of all rental properties, nearly double the national average.
Nonetheless, the report illuminates yet another often ignored yet gnawing side effect of our region’s lingering economic malaise. It also should serve as a clarion call for concerted action to lessen the pain and anxiety that forceful expulsion from one’s home too often inflicts on vulnerable men, women and children.
Doing so, of course, stands as no mean feat. Eviction most often results from a series of interconnected complex structural dilemmas not quick to fix.
Rising rental prices, stagnant and falling wages and the lack of adequate low-income housing properties are but a few of the ingredients that have aggravated the trend toward high rates of evictions in Mahoning County.
According to the Ohio Bureau of Labor Market Information, average weekly household earnings total about $703 in Mahoning County, more than $200 less than average weekly earnings statewide. Annually, that adds up to about a $10,000 differential and means many tenants must sacrifice more than 50 percent of their entire income on shelter alone.
And the rate of increasing rent – a 14 percent jump in Ohio from 2009 to 2016, according to a 2018 Gavop analysis of U.S. Census data – outpacing overall inflation makes the squeeze on low-and moderate-income renters all the more tight.
That problem is further exacerbated by the inadequate supply of affordable rental housing stock in Greater Youngstown. According to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, Mahoning County was short more than 5,200 affordable and available rental units for low-income households between the years of 2010 and 2014.
Part of the solution therefore rests in expanding the stock of affordable rental properties in the county. Government and community leaders, in concert with public-housing agencies, neighborhood development organizations, homeless shelters and private landlords, can unite to craft concrete plans to build or renovate properties suitable for habitation in Youngstown and the suburban and rural areas of the county at rental rates affordable to the tens of thousands who struggle on fixed incomes with minimum-wage jobs.
We recall the heroic status heaped upon the late former Valley Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. when as sheriff he refused to execute foreclosure orders on many down-on-their-luck homeowners during the early days of the retrenchment of Big Steel here. While today’s government and community leaders should not act so capriciously in defiance of the law, they should act collectively toward finding realistic solutions to soothe the sting of eviction. In part, that means decreasing poverty rates and increasing employment rates.
ROLE FOR LANDLORDS
Landlords have a role to play as well. We would urge them to be as tolerant and patient as possible with cash-strapped tenants, particularly those such as the 4,500 General Motors Lordstown complex employees who are losing or who have lost their jobs at the soon-to-be-idled automaking behemoth. Perhaps longer-term payment plans can be negotiated or other strategies implemented to avoid tossing families onto the street.
Tenants, of course, must do all possible as well to meet their legal contractual obligations. They can seek out assistance and advice from the OHFA or look to public housing agencies such as the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority to explore other more realistic housing opportunities.
Of course, much of the solution will lie in the ability of the Mahoning Valley in general and Mahoning County in particular to recharge its economic- development engine on par with other more prosperous regions of our state.
Then and likely only then will we see meaningful reductions in the rate of forced evictions. Until then, landlords, tenants, government leaders, public housing agencies and community-service organizations would do well to address all of the many complex dimensions of the problem while ensuring adequate safety nets are securely in place.