A two-day series
Charmaine Crossley and Kate Dunphy talk in hushed voices on the top floor of the Clark County Courthouse, planning what to say to keep Crossley and her family from being evicted.
Dunphy, the deputy director of the Tenants Union of Washington State, advises Crossley on how best to defend herself if the judge denies her request for more time.
Dove Property Management, which manages the east county home where Crossley lives, sued her for not paying her September rent. Crossley says she tried to pay but Dove wouldn’t take her housing assistance check from Share, because the nonprofit asked the company to fill out a W-9 tax form.
Since she couldn’t use the money from Share, Crossley crowd-raised $3,090 to pay her September and October rent along with a late fee, and submitted that money to the Clark County Superior Court clerk earlier this month.
The 40-year-old single mom furrows her eyebrows as she examines paperwork with Dunphy, who’s an advocate, not an attorney, and can’t represent her in court. Crossley is wearing heart-print scrubs because she works as a care provider and didn’t have time to change after work. She had to pick up her two children from school and hurry to make her 4 p.m. court appearance.
Crossley got the three-day notice to pay $1,495 in rent and a $100 late fee Sept. 6. Then, the notice of a lawsuit arrived in mid-September.
After the hearing starts, Judge Robert Lewis points out that these cases don’t normally take so long. He’s already given her time to prepare her case.
“We’re prepared to go today because she hasn’t denied our allegations,” says Mark Passannante, the landlord’s attorney. However, he adds, he wouldn’t mind a short delay in the eviction proceedings. Both sides have witnesses who aren’t here.
Lewis grants the continuance. Crossley will be back in court Nov. 3.
After Lewis and Passannante leave, Crossley sighs deeply. She has two more weeks to gather witnesses, secure an attorney and build her case, though the two parties could negotiate a settlement in the interim.
‘Tired of fighting’
At home, Crossley continues strategizing with Dunphy as she gets her son ready for football practice. Crossley and her kids live in a clean ranch-style house just outside the Vancouver city limits. Not all of the family’s moving boxes are unpacked.
She winces getting up and down from the couch. Her knee has been bothering her and she hasn’t had time to go to physical therapy.
“I have a headache every night I come home,” Crossley says. “I get so tired of fighting.”
Crossley moved to Vancouver after the rent increased at her home in St. Johns, an up-and-coming area of Portland. She said she’d lived there for seven years. Her son was born in that house.
Six months after moving her family into a home on this side of the river, she got a three-day notice to vacate. And then, Dove Property Management, which manages the property owned by Ono Farms, moved to evict her.
The odds are stacked against Crossley. Rarely are unlawful-detainer lawsuits dismissed. Agencies that try to prevent evictions say they work with a lot of single mothers like Crossley.
Although the number of eviction filings has generally declined over the last decade, they’ve stabilized in the last couple of years. In 2016, there were 1,122 filings including 67 cases that were dismissed. So far this year, there have been more than 900 unlawful detainer filings; that’s on track to meet or possibly surpass 2016.
$1,050 a month
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey, median monthly housing costs for local renters rose from $785 to $1,106 over the past decade. Median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around $1,050.
The improved economy is the main reason evictions have gone down in the last decade, says Carmen Villarma, president of local property management company The Management Group. Back in 2006, there were a significant number of people who lost their jobs and, without that income, lost their housing, she said. Even though wages haven’t kept up with rent, Villarma said, jobs are readily available and give people some options financially.
Attorney Scott Thompson, who deals with unlawful-detainer cases, says there are several factors contributing to the number of evictions. Multi-family housing, both subsidized and market-rate, is being built across the county. Some low-income renters have left Clark County for cheaper markets, such as Cowlitz County. The city of Vancouver has had its renter protections for a couple of years, and with recent annexation near Vancouver Mall, those protections now apply to more people. Crossley’s house is one block outside of city limits, so they’re unavailable to her.
Kate Budd, deputy director of the Council for the Homeless, says people are also becoming more aware of the effects of a eviction — not just the immediate effects in losing a place to live, but also the way an eviction impacts future rental prospects for years.
“It is extremely difficult to be able to rent a new unit,” she says. “It really limits their options.”
Because tenants are understanding that more clearly, and because the local rental vacancy rate is low, they may go out of their way to make sure they don’t get a three-day notice to pay or get out.
Once the eviction is formally filed, it will be on Crossley’s record whether the case is dismissed or not. She may be able to get an order of limited dissemination, that basically hides the eviction from screening agencies, if she wins the case.
With Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Fund supporting the construction and preservation of housing that’s affordable to low-income households, evictions should go down as units become available, Budd said. And, the city council has a new $300,000 homelessness-prevention fund to disburse. That may be one way to measure the fund’s success — by what influence it has on the number of eviction filings.