'We're in trouble': Evictions surpass pre-pandemic levels, strain shelters

Attorney Kayleen Asmus consults with Brenda Benitez.
Legal Assistance of Olmstead County attorney Kayleen Asmus (left) consults with Brenda Benitez, an attorney representing a landlord, during an eviction clinic held at Olmsted County District Court on Feb. 20, 2019.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

“We’re in trouble.” That's the message from Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley in a recent Twitter thread about rising eviction rates.

The state began phasing out pandemic protections for renters last summer. Since then, evictions filings have skyrocketed, with the number of families in shelters following a similar path.

“Our two family shelters in Hennepin County have reached capacity. We're using overflow rooms and hotels now. And for some families, they're living outside,” Conley told MPR News.

Statewide, evictions averaged 600 a week in June. That’s 73 percent above the pre-pandemic average, according to court filings compiled by Princeton University's Eviction Lab. Most of those filings were in Hennepin County.

Conley joined All Things Considered Monday to talk about the problem and potential solutions. You can hear the conversation using the audio player above, or read the transcript below. It has been lightly edited for length.

Line graph of evictions and families in shelter
The number of eviction filings and families in shelter in Hennepin County rose sharply in 2022.
Courtesy of Hennepin County.

Tell us what you know about who is being evicted and which communities are being most affected?

So these are Black families. I want to be very clear about that. These are Black and Indigenous families with children, who are working families. And as we know, wages are not keeping up with the huge increases that we've seen in rent.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

In just a few months, our two family shelters in Hennepin County have reached capacity. We're using overflow rooms and hotels now. And for some families, they're living outside.

What's your sense of the reasons why so many people are being evicted?

So we had a really robust rental assistance program that came with our American Rescue Plan allocation, and then it came to an end.

Now, during the last [legislative] session, our governor put together a bonding package that had millions of dollars for rental assistance available. However, as we all know, that bonding package was not approved. And so there's still a lot of money out there for this, but we're not getting it.

What I will say, though, is that both the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County have been granted about $6 million from the state that will specifically go towards rental assistance for families with school-aged children. But we still have this really dark reality that when the school year starts next month, there will be many, many young children who will be going back to school with no adequate shelter.

When you say we're in trouble, what do you mean by that? What's at stake beyond these individual family struggles?

We've spent a lot of dollars since the beginning of the pandemic making sure people were housed [and] bringing down the number of people experiencing homelessness. Our last point-in-time count this year showed a decrease for the first time in several years of the number of people counted who are living outside. But what we're going to do now is actually reverse that.

We're in trouble because we're going to reverse the hard work that we've done to keep families off the streets.

How can the state and federal government or private industry help?

We need more funds from Housing and Urban Development to trickle down and go directly to states and counties, just like the [American Rescue Plans] funds did.

Hennepin County [has] increased our tenant resources with eviction prevention services, to make sure that any family that is facing eviction has access to emergency cash assistance, triage to other services like mediation with landlords or their employer and other types of rental assistance. We need the state to funnel some of [its] surplus dollars into this work. Again, I mentioned part of the funds that were in the governor's bonding bill had supports like this already written in there.

What are you hearing from landlords about why they're making these decisions to evict, and are there services available for them?

A lot of our resources are aimed at both tenants and landlords, because 90 percent of the huge number of eviction filings are for non-payment of rent.

I think there are many landlords out there who want to support their tenants. And there are many landlords out there who we know applied for Hennepin County's rental assistance funds that were targeted towards landlords to say, “Hey, here's a bucket of money that can help you offset while we mediate with your tenant.” And it worked. It proved to be successful. So we just need to better fund that.