Eviction 'monsoon' clouds Hennepin County budget talks

A sign reads "Stop the sweeps | No evictions on stolen lands"
Since June, evictions statewide have averaged 520 a week. That's about 50 percent higher than the pre-pandemic average. The majority are in Hennepin County.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Hennepin County commissioners began hearing 2023 budget proposals this week, and sticking out in a list of single-digit increases — even some decreases — was a request for a 42 percent budget increase.

It came from the department that offers, among other things, legal representation to people facing eviction. A portion of that increase would fund additional staff to help tenants in court and connect them with other services.

“It [was] initially a slow crescendo in eviction cases that turned into a monsoon, honestly,” said Jeanette Boerner, director of Adult Representation Services.

Since June, evictions statewide have averaged 520 a week, according to Princeton’s Eviction Lab, which tracks filings using court data. That's about 50 percent higher than the pre-pandemic average. The majority are in Hennepin County.

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And as courts catch up on a pandemic-related backlog of cases, scheduled eviction hearings will balloon from 357 in September to 835 next month.

Boerner said the increase is driven largely by the expiration of an eviction moratorium that the state put in place during the height of the pandemic. But she said county modeling predicts the high rate of evictions will continue as a tight housing market pushes rents up.

County data from earlier this year show the number of people in homeless shelters tracking closely with eviction filings.

“We got a call on our helpline two days ago from a single mom with three kids, and she was, frankly, hysterical. Her biggest concern as she faced an eviction one week from the day she called was that she and her kids would be out cold for the winter,” Boerner said, adding that it is nearly impossible to find a rental if you have an eviction on your record.

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

She said people facing eviction should immediately seek legal help from services like hers and, no matter what, show up for court. A failure to appear results in an automatic eviction.

Boerner is hoping her budget ask earlier this week will result in five additional staff to help field such calls and represent tenants in court. The rest of the budget increase would go toward establishing a legal team to help people facing civil commitment for mental health reasons. Currently, the county does that work using contractors.

“I will work closely with county leadership to make my case,” Boerner said. “My hope is that we’ll get these positions, and I recognize that a lot of people are vying for resources.”

County budget hearings are scheduled to continue through December.