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What are the causes and consequences of Mississippi’s rampant evictions?

What are the causes and consequences of Mississippi’s rampant evictions?

Picture of Nick Judin
The courthouse in Starkville, Mississippi.
The courthouse in Starkville, Mississippi.
(Photo by Nick Judin)

Mississippi is one of the most eviction-friendly states in the nation. Jackson, its capital, is frequently touted as having one of the highest eviction rates of any city in the U.S. In repeated Census Household Pulse Surveys, the state lingers at the peaks of housing insecurity, missed rent payments, and likelihood of foreclosure.

But the scope of evictions in Mississippi is poorly understood, to say nothing of their consequences. Expert observers of housing law in Mississippi warn that record keeping with regards to evictions is wildly inconsistent, both county to county and compared to other basic statistics.

For many in Mississippi, eviction is a sudden crisis with little recourse or support. I witnessed this firsthand in my reporting on the Starkville mass evictions, in which over 50 families and individuals were evicted en masse from a low-income apartment complex in a quiet North Mississippi college town. Residents reported a police-escorted representative from their new property management firm demanding their immediate removal just over a week after an eviction hearing.

Only the intercession of national scrutiny and an injunction won by a local attorney gave the residents of the Catherine Street Apartment Complex a meager few weeks to find alternative housing. In spite of the evictions taking place at the height of the delta surge, with field hospitals opening to provide overflow medical care to critical patients, no law prevented the removals. 

The eviction moratorium put forth during the pandemic era was intended to be a safeguard against evictions proven to exacerbate the transmission of COVID-19, on top of their long-established injury to the health and well-being of individuals and families. The moratorium, which applied to evictions for non-payment, reduced the volume of removal orders and evictions while it was active. But countless loopholes and creative interpretations allowed Mississippi landlords to continue evicting tenants through all stages of the pandemic. 

The broad scope of Mississippi landlords’ legal avenues for eviction presents steep challenges to many in the state, including low-income communities and communities of color. And yet a longstanding trend of illegal evictions has housing advocates concerned that no estimate of legally mandated removals can capture the true scope of Mississippi's evictions and forced removals.

These evictions remove families and individuals without any concern for their rights or contractual obligations. And while a framework for punishing these evictions does exist under Mississippi state code, access to legal representation and a complete awareness of what eviction law prevents is limited in Mississippi.

The downstream consequences of Mississippi’s eviction policies, too, are poorly reflected in official data. A growing population of functionally unhoused Mississippians are caught in limbo between the legally accepted definition of homelessness and the goal of stable housing, lacking documentation of their condition and thus an ability to seek help from the state. Many more legally qualify as homeless, yet fall through the cracks of both record keeping and public assistance programs.

This project for the 2022 National Fellowship seeks to map the scope of evictions in Mississippi, both legal and illegal, and to highlight what standards, if any, exist for record keeping; to examine the erosion of protections against arbitrary, illegal and damaging evictions; and to examine how the state’s laxity towards the eviction process may have exacerbated its experience with the coronavirus pandemic, which in Mississippi proved deadlier than in any other state in the U.S.

The project is also an on the ground observation of evictions in the late pandemic period, after which even the barest of protections against eviction, both financial and legal, have been stripped away in spite of the ongoing economic distress and health challenges of the ongoing pandemic.

In all, evictions can and should be examined through a lens of public health. In this way, housing laws and their uneven enforcement can be evaluated as parts of community health policy. Their disparate racial impacts can be examined as an issue of health equity, inseparable from the ongoing racial health inequity rampant in Mississippi.

Comments

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The homeless community includes many who have been evicted from their rented residence while, if not due to, suffering significant mental health tribulations; and from there they can become long-termed homeless.

To me, it's additionally offensive that people who cannot afford/maintain an official residence are, by extension, too poor to be permitted to practice what's frequently platitudinously described as all citizens' right to vote in elections.

Tragically, it’s as though some people, however precious their souls, can be considered disposable. Even to an otherwise democratic and relatively civilized nation, their worth(lessness) is measured basically by their 'productivity' or lack thereof. Those people may then begin perceiving themselves as worthless and accordingly live their daily lives more haphazardly.

Albeit perhaps on a subconscious level, a somewhat similar inhuman(e) devaluation is observable in external attitudes toward the daily civilian lives lost in protractedly devastating war zones and famine-stricken nations; the worth of such life will be measured by its 'productivity', overabundance and/or the protracted conditions under which it suffers. Thus, those people can eventually receive meagre column inches on the back page of the First World’s daily news.

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