Could changes in eviction and housing policies help address racial disparities in health, education and income? A new report says yes.
Moratoriums helped cut evictions in Nebraska last year by almost half, but thousands of Nebraskans still lost their rental homes — including at least 60 people who should have been protected by federal pandemic law, according to research by Creighton University and housing advocates.
“We found at least 60 cases where a property should have been covered by the CARES Act,” said Pierce Greenberg, a Creighton assistant professor. “That’s important because the purpose of that moratorium was to prevent that sort of thing from happening. ... It underscores some of the imbalances within eviction court.’”
In all of those 60 cases, the researchers found, the landlord had legal representation but the tenants did not. Overall, only 4.4% of Nebraska renters facing eviction in 2020 were represented by attorneys. That was more than normal because of extra efforts to help tenants during the pandemic. Fewer than 2% of eviction defendants had lawyers in the previous four years, the researchers found.
The study fits into a national debate about the uneven playing field faced by tenants with no legal representation in eviction proceedings. A number of American cities have adopted right-to-counsel laws, providing tenants with court-appointed attorneys. Bills to do so have been introduced in several state legislatures, including in Nebraska.
Creighton’s Social Science Data Lab, led by Greenberg, collaborated on the study of evictions with the Omaha nonprofit Together, which provides assistance to low-income people and advocates for them. The researchers concluded that “the pandemic amplified issues of fairness and representation in eviction court.”
Could changes in eviction and housing policies help address racial disparities in health, education and income? A new report says yes.
“It’s crazy that people were being evicted from their homes in the midst of a pandemic,” said Erin Feichtinger, director of advocacy and policy at Together. “Even worse than that is that people were being evicted when they should have been protected by any of the various state or federal moratoriums that existed at one point or another. The experience of 2020 in evictions really highlighted the disparities that exist in eviction proceedings.”
The study found that there were 3,488 evictions in Nebraska in 2020. That’s a 45% decrease from the annual average of 6,286 over the previous four years. The authors attributed the decrease to federal and state restrictions on evictions, rental assistance from the government and nonprofit groups and increased legal help for tenants from such groups as Legal Aid of Nebraska and the Tenant Assistance Project in Lincoln.
But the authors cautioned that a significant rise in evictions could occur when federal restrictions, recently extended by the Biden administration, expire June 30.
That national moratorium, imposed for public health reasons and opposed by many rental property owners, forbids evicting people for nonpayment of rent at federally financed properties. But advocates say many people facing eviction don’t know about the federal protection or how to assert it in court.
Rental property owner associations have generally opposed moratoriums, saying owners can’t afford to rent properties for free. They have said they try to avoid evicting tenants but sometimes have to do so.
The letter to Omaha landlords from Mayor Jean Stothert and Douglas County Board Chairman Clare Duda says the two officials "strongly urge landlords to waive or suspend all evictions due to the inability to pay rent until the pandemic subsides and emergency health measures have been lifted."
Nebraska also had a statewide moratorium on evictions in spring 2020. The number of evictions in the state dropped dramatically during that time, then rose again in subsequent months.
Eviction filings peaked in August, after the federal moratorium expired and before restrictions were imposed through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The filings reached 80% of the monthly average in December, packing courtrooms just after the state’s November COVID-19 spike.
The study of 2020 evictions also found that:
The vast majority of evictions — 74% — occurred in Douglas and Lancaster Counties.
More than one-fifth of all the eviction filings in the state were for homes in North Omaha. Renters in North Omaha were much more likely to be evicted than those in the rest of the state. In the ZIP code 68111 in North Omaha, 5.5% of renters were evicted; statewide, it was 1.4%.
Slightly more than half — 57% — of eviction cases resulted in people actually being evicted. That’s less than the average of 72% in the prior four years.
Of the 60 cases that the researchers concluded should have been protected under the federal moratorium, 36 were in Douglas County.
Greenberg said researchers used national databases to check if a property was federally financed and local court records for the reason for the eviction.
The findings about evictions during the pandemic “really highlighted the very urgent need for some kind of change, that something needed to change,” Feichtinger said. “Because even though we were trying our best to protect people in an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, it wasn’t working because the process is just not fair.”
Landlords express willingness to work with tenants, but eviction process can move fast when rent is unpaid.
The researchers said they hope the study will help inform consideration of policy changes in the Nebraska Legislature. A number of bills were introduced this year to make changes to state law on evictions. One, Legislative Bill 419, would create a right to publicly supported counsel for people facing eviction, paid for by county governments with help from a $50 eviction filing fee. It appears unlikely to pass this year.
Meanwhile, LB 320, Sen. John Cavanaugh’s priority bill, would make smaller changes, including protecting people who are victims of domestic violence from being evicted because of the crimes against them. It also would make the rules the same for landlords and tenants for requesting an eviction hearing postponement. Currently, the bar is higher for tenants.
Bill would let some officials in Nebraska put moratorium on evictions in 'public health emergencies'
City, county or health officials could enact the moratoriums, which would also prohibit penalties or late fees during the emergency and six months afterward.
Dr. Fred Kader was too young to know that he twice escaped a trip to the dreaded Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.
He’s had to piece together the early years of his childhood. Like many Holocaust survivors, once the 82-year-old finally learned his history, he was determined to share it with students, friends, colleagues and now even on school Zoom sessions.
“It’s not just a two-line entry in a history book,” he said. “It was real.”
Kader, a retired pediatric neurologist in Omaha, put together what happened in the early years of his life through calls and meetings with other survivors, information provided with his birth certificate and a trip to his home country of Belgium.
It’s just been in the past seven months that a person from the Netherlands was able to connect him through Skype with a 90-year-old Soviet-born first cousin, who finally told him what happened to his mother’s side of the family.
His memories don’t start until age 7. By then, the rest of his Jewish family of eight had died at Auschwitz, joining a list of more than 1 million.
“I had a space in the back of my head that was locked, and I had to find the key to open it,’’ Kader said.
Nebraska students would be taught about the Holocaust, slavery and "racial massacres" under a bill advanced Tuesday by state lawmakers. State Sens. Sara Howard and Ernie Chambers worked to broaden what should be taught by offering amendments to a noncontroversial bill being debated Tuesday.
Kader discovered that he had been walking with his mother on a street near an Antwerp train station in July 1942 when they were caught in a raid. His mother told the woman next to her that her son could easily pass for an Aryan with his blond hair and blue eyes. For that reason, she told him to walk away quickly and not look back. He was 4.
Kader met the woman who was there on a trip to Belgium in 1996. She told him the story.
“It takes a lot of love for a mother to tell her son to walk out of a train station and survive while she knows darn well she’s going to her death,’’ Kader said.
Kader and his two older brothers were taken in by an Antwerp orphanage, although that was no protection from the Nazis. His brothers were shipped to Auschwitz at the end of September 1942, when Jewish orphans older than 5 were arrested and deported. The Nazis came back for the children younger than 5 in October.
Kader’s group was waiting for a late-arriving train to Auschwitz when some 10- to 14-year-olds from another orphanage grabbed six of them and took them to their room at the transit camp. That group had been given the OK to return to their orphanage, thanks to intense lobbying by representatives of Elisabeth of Bavaria, queen of Belgium. Kader and his group weren’t part of the release agreement.
When the number of children leaving didn’t correspond with the total the Nazis had recorded earlier, the head of the orphanage said some of the youngsters had measles and were allowed to leave so they wouldn’t infect any officers.
Kader also discovered later that his father, who had been doing slave labor for the Nazis in Calais until he became too weak to work, was shipped through that same train station to Auschwitz on the same day his son was there.
“I survived; my dad didn’t survive,’’ he said. “Even though we were at the same place for part of the day, I was too young to know what was going on, and my dad had no idea.”
Kader has told his story to Reinier Heinsman of the Netherlands for the 24-year-old’s book, “From the Children’s Home to the Gas Chamber: And How Some Avoided Their Fate.’’
Heinsman said Kader was one of only 13 survivors among the 39 children at his orphanage. The others died in the gas chambers. He appears with 10 other youngsters on the cover of the book; six are still alive.
“That photo was taken in November 1942, just after Fred Kader and several others had been saved from the transit camp, just prior to their deportation,’’ Heinsman said. “They last saw each other more than 75 years ago and now they have all been reunited through Zoom and have become good friends once again.’’
Heinsman was volunteering for the Kazerne Dossin Museum in Belgium, where he would search for photos missing from the Wall of Remembrance. That led to the story of the orphanage.
It’s told in three parts: the life of a Jewish child in prewar Belgium, the Antwerp orphanage in which Kader was housed, and broader details about Jewish orphans.
The legislation creates a grant program supporting Holocaust education programs and regional workshops that help teachers incorporate Holocaust education into their lesson plans.
One of Kader’s uncles found him at the second orphanage after the war. He lived with his uncle’s family in Brussels before joining a great-aunt and great-uncle in Canada in 1949.
Kader said he could only describe himself as a hellion when found by his uncle and said that when, after lots of love, he became human again, he decided that he would honor his family and become a doctor to help other children.
“They were the ones that needed help, and I was the proof of it,’’ he said. “I was going to be able to help the kids I wanted to, having survived.’’
Kader met his wife, Sarah, while studying medicine in Canada and eventually arrived in Omaha in 1974. He worked at the University of Nebraska Medical Center before going into private practice. They have three children and seven grandchildren.
Kader worked until two years ago, when he retired to care for his wife, who has had health problems.
Kader said it’s important to continue to tell the story of the Holocaust because it’s not ancient history.
“We are reliving it,’’ he said. “There is genocide going on everywhere, even in the United States. Not just anti-Semitism but also anti-Chinese because of the way the COVID virus got presented to the people. Respect other people and learn how to be a decent human being so the children have a better life than I did.’’
His neighbor expected a usual meandering tale from the tiny adorable man with the thick Polish accent. But he didn't expect to hear this one.
MINNEAPOLIS — Jamar Nelson was asleep on his couch more than two decades ago when police burst into his apartment, beating him and leaving a gash in his head that required 13 stitches. Every time he touches the scar, he is reminded of what happens to many Black men whose lives collide with law enforcement.
“I’ve seen plenty of police brutality,” Nelson said, recalling that day when police raided his duplex for drugs. He was not arrested or charged. “The harassment, the profiling, the intimidation.”
But last summer as politicians and activists discussed abolishing the Minneapolis Police Department after George Floyd died beneath the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin, Nelson looked out over a city traumatized not only by police but also by a surge of violent crime that was sweeping a nation that in 2020 recorded the largest percentage increase in homicides in a single year.
Getting rid of police suddenly felt like the wrong goal, said Nelson, a community activist. Homicides, rapes, robberies and assaults jumped about 25% in Minneapolis from the previous year. The city’s 82 homicides in 2020 were double the four-year annual average.
“A community has to have some form of policing,” he said, stressing that more focus should be placed on hiring officers who understand and empathize with the neighborhoods they patrol. “We need police, police who live in the community — Black communities — and who are from the community.”
As the jury in Chauvin’s trial nears the start of deliberations, Minneapolis has, once again, found itself at the forefront of a debate seared with a legacy of racial injustice: What is the future of policing in America, and what’s the best way to get there?
Almost everyone here agrees that policing needs to change — it’s impossible to watch the video of Floyd’s final breath and think otherwise, they say — but they’re split on how that should happen, especially in the aftermath of nationwide demonstrations that demanded departments reform even as they angered many police officers who felt unfairly vilified.
The anger and frustration were heightened last weekend when a suburban Minneapolis officer, Kim Potter, fatally shot Daunte Wright, a Black man, during a traffic stop. The officer said she mistakenly fired her handgun when she meant to use her Taser.
Is the answer less taxpayer money and fewer officers on the streets? Or would more officers — people with ties to the communities they patrol — improve things? Many people here believe that investing more money in schools and community programs is key, but should that money be diverted away from patrol budgets?
The Chauvin trial — with its medical experts and tearful witnesses — unfolded in recent weeks against this debate as if a real-time morality play on the consequences of bad policing. Whether jurors ultimately decide to convict Chauvin, who faces murder and manslaughter charges, will no doubt shape views on how to reform law enforcement in an age of viral videos and Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday.
“This trial and its outcome is a pivotal event for understanding the soul of America,” said Delores Jones-Brown, a visiting professor at Howard University and a professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Moving ahead, what we’re seeing is a debate over reallocation and reduction in funds for policing in the country.”
Such conversations in the weeks after Floyd’s killing have already spurred action in some cities.
In July, the Los Angeles City Council approved a $150 million cut to the police budget, a move local politicians said would translate into more money for services to help disenfranchised communities. Cities in the Pacific Northwest considered alternatives like calling mental health experts and not police to certain scenes. But perhaps in no place are these questions more resonant than in Minneapolis, where Floyd’s death sparked protests around the globe.
In June, a majority of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to dismantle the Police Department while standing in a South Minneapolis park adorned with two massive words: “Defund Police.” But in the weeks that followed some residents criticized the plan, arguing that it felt deeply out of sync with their lived realities, especially as the region experienced an increase in violent crime.
“It’s been wild out here,” Nelson said of the rising crime in his predominantly Black north side of Minneapolis, whose high poverty rates have been shaped by decades of neglected school funding and racist redlining. “And then people hear rumors about the police going to be abolished and it’s basically everyone for themselves.’’
After Floyd’s death on May 25, the size of the city’s police force shrunk drastically.
Since 2020, the department’s force of nearly 870 officers has fallen to about 630. Roughly 150 officers are listed on some form of extended leave due to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to department statistics. In some cities, including Minneapolis, crime rose as unemployment soared during the pandemic and as police were preoccupied with protests or appeared less vigilant as public anger intensified against them.
The City Council ultimately walked back its all-out pledge to abolish the department. But in December the council voted to divert nearly $8 million of the department’s $180 million budget to community-based approaches to policing. Last month, the council advanced a measure that could go before voters this fall calling for the city to create a new Department of Public Safety that would encompass a broader health and social approach to fighting crime.
“The vote was an acknowledgment of the need to fundamentally change a system that serves White people better than it serves people of color, and that disproportionately exposes some in our city to harm,” Council Member Steve Fletcher, a sponsor, said at a virtual meeting when it passed.
A similar ballot measure that could go before voters — an effort spearheaded by a coalition of liberal groups and young activists — would also replace the Police Department with a newly created Department of Public Safety.
Approving such a department, supporters of the Yes 4 Minneapolis measure say, is the best way ensure safety that prioritizes public health. Radical change is necessary, they say, when faced with a department that has paid out millions of dollars in settlements in police brutality cases.
The city recently announced it would pay Floyd’s family $27 million in a settlement.
“For decades, MPD has killed, profiled and over-policed Minneapolis community members — especially Black and Native people — while also failing to solve issues like gun violence, intimate partner violence and addiction,” said Corenia Smith, campaign manager for the measure. “The MPD has had more than 150 years to address our most urgent problems. It’s time for the community to take the lead in what we want.”
Some other Minneapolis residents, however, believe the answer lies not in getting rid of the department but in reimagining it so it is no longer scorned.
After Floyd’s death, Minneapolis Chief Medaria Arradondo, the city’s first Black police chief, and Mayor Jacob Frey pushed for widespread policy changes, including bans on police chokeholds or neck restraints and a requirement that officers intervene if a colleague uses improper force.
Arradondo’s trial testimony against Chauvin’s actions was a telling sign that police may be more inclined to break the “blue wall of silence” in protecting fellow officers.
Working with the department on necessary reforms is the best solution, said Gwen DeGroff-Gunter, who retired from the Minneapolis Police Department in 2012.
“It’s ridiculous to say ‘abolish,’ even ‘defund’ the police,” said DeGroff-Gunter. “Reform, sure. But it makes no sense to ever go down that path as the city sees an increase in violent crime.”
DeGroff-Gunter, who is Black, said that, in the days after Floyd’s death, she reached out to the half a dozen or so Black female police officers on the force, who told her they felt numb after watching the viral video.
“It’s also what I felt,” she said. “I still feel numb. … In policing, there has to be a level of empathy and humanity. There was none of that for George Floyd.”
This report includes material from the Associated Press.