In public housing, a small debt can get poor tenants evicted

Public housing is supposed to be a solution to homelessness, not a cause of it.

But in Crisfield, a city of 2,600 on the Chesapeake Bay, the housing authority is one of the leading eviction filers. It files cases against tenants so often that officials hired a contractor to automate the process.

The agency owns just 330 units yet filed 718 times in 2019, all over late rent. In nearly 30% of those cases, records show, tenants owed less than $100.

What’s happening here isn’t an anomaly.

The Howard Center for Investigative Journalism analyzed four years of eviction data for Crisfield and four other public housing authorities with aggressive filing records — in Minneapolis; Oklahoma City; Charleston, South Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia — to find out why these important anti-poverty agencies are taking so many of their clients to court.

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