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Evictions lead to lingering challenges

October 3, 2018

Joyce Wilson

Problems at work and an unexpected rent increase fueled complications with existing depression and diabetes for Joyce Wilson.

The anxiety that followed resulted in missed rent payments, which led to an eviction notice, she said.

“I kind of lost it and went overboard and didn’t pay nothing,” she said.

Wilson saw her monthly rent climb from $845 to $987 at Villages at Essex Place in July when Plymouth-based Dominium Apartments opted to increase all rents to the maximum amount allowed under the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program.

Owen Truesdell, a Dominium spokesman, said he couldn’t comment on individual cases but noted the Essex Place rents were equalized after years of having units available at less than the maximum allowable rents.

Wilson said the increase meant half of her paycheck would have gone to pay for housing, but then she lost her job as a local service driver.

In August, after missing two rent payments, Wilson was ordered to pay $2,573 — rent owed plus court fees — by the end of the month or turn in her keys.

She said she offered a payment plan based on hopes of returning to over-the-road truck driving. She had nearly $600 for a down payment and offered to catch up with the rent due by November.

With the case already settled by the court, she said no interest was shown in the option.

Today, after a couple of stops and starts, Wilson is driving an 18-wheeler on the nation’s highways, working out of Eagan for a Canadian company, earning $1 for each mile she drives.

After expenses, she expects to clear at least $1,000 a week, double what she made in her last job.

Now in a better place to afford Rochester-area rents, she’s still living out of the truck she’s leasing from her employer.

“There’s no chance with that hanging over my head,” she said of trying to find an apartment after the eviction that left her homeless.

Larry More said Wilson’s circumstances are unusual. The family advocacy services specialist for Three Rivers Community Action. He said a record of an eviction is a black flag that makes it hard to find housing in an already tight market, even when circumstances change.

“There’s a lot of people in line looking for one apartment,” he said.

Karen Fairbairn Nath, executive director of Legal Assistance of Olmsted County, also noted the concern, which is why her agency is working with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Olmsted County District Court to create a new avenue for addressing evictions starting in December

Approximately 350 eviction cases are seen each year in Olmsted County, and the project funded with an Eviction Prevention Project grant is expected to help provide legal assistance for up to 100 families to prevent eviction as well as provide access financial counseling, Nath said.

The goal, she said, is to keep people from becoming trapped in poverty.

“We really see eviction as that spiral down,” she said. “It perpetuates poverty.”

While an eviction can eventually be removed from a record, Nath said it’s not guaranteed in all cases and without legal action an eviction could exist for future landlords to find at any time.

More said that’s why Three Rivers and a variety of other local agencies already offer emergency assistance for people facing the possibility of being put on the street. The one-time assistance can help prevent legal action that adds court costs and future challenges to a family’s or individual’s economic strain.

If the one-time help fails to stop an eviction, people with evictions other their records frequently face limited options.

“They need to find a private landlord who is not going to do a background check, who will rent to them,” said Michele Merxbauer, Olmsted County Housing Program manager.

They can also be faced with increased deposits or accepting inferior living conditions.

While More agreed that finding a landlord who will forego a background check, which typically adds an non-refundable cost to a rental application, is a solution for some, he said sometimes a head-on approach works.

He said he frequently encourages people to be upfront with a potential landlord, taking the time to explain circumstances and outline the course of action being taken to overcome past troubles.

“You’re coming out clean,” he said, noting honesty can trump a bad mark on a background check.

As Wilson continues to ponder what’s next, she said she continues to work her way out of the unexpected financial hole she found herself in.

“I’m having a tough time,” she said recently from the road in Pennsylvania.

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