High Eviction Rates Leave New Britain Families Without Homes

New+Britain%27s+high+eviction+rates+have+caused+residents+like+Shannon+Buchko+to+lose+their+homes.

Tom Hopkins

New Britain’s high eviction rates have caused residents like Shannon Buchko to lose their homes.

Tom Hopkins, Staff Writer

Shannon Buchko stood in her now mostly empty kitchen by the stove with which she lit her cigarette. She leaned on the counter while taking a drag, exhaling, then took a sip of her beer.

“I’m sorry,” Buchko said. “I’m just so stressed.”

Buchko was just weeks removed from being in the hospital for a traumatic brain injury following an accident. While she was in the hospital clinging to life, the court proceedings to evict Buchko from her home took place.

“I missed courts dates because I was fighting to live,” Buchko said. “And I lived. I’m here. That’s a big step, I’m just trying to stay alive now.”

By the time she was well enough to leave the hospital and attend court for the final hearing, the judge had already made his decision. He told her she had to go. Buchko had three days to leave the place she and her teenage son had called home for five years.

Statistics show eviction has become a national crisis. In New Britain, the eviction rate is one of the state’s highest, according to the Eviction Lab, the brainchild of Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, who has done extensive research on the subject. At 4.68 percent, which represents the number of evictions per 100 renter homes, the eviction rate in New Britain is almost 2.5 percent higher than the national average.

The root cause of eviction is the lack of affordable housing for low-income earners. Connecticut has the sixth highest median housing cost in the country, making it one of the most expensive states to live in.

The financial rule of thumb, according to David Fink, formerly of the Connecticut Partnership for Strong Communities, is that the cost of rent should not exceed 30 percent of gross income. However, 49 percent of renters in Connecticut spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

“That’s the issue with eviction. You have so many people living on the edge,” Fink said. “In addition to 49 percent of renters paying 30 percent of their income on housing, you have about 129,000 households that are paying more than 50 percent on housing.”

“Do you know what it means to pay 50 percent of your income for rent?” Fink continued. “That’s when your kid gets a bag of Doritos for breakfast.”

For low-income renters living on the edge, an unexpected expense like a doctor visit for a sick child, an insurance deductible from a car accident or even just buying a new tire after getting a flat can throw off an entire budget and put someone out on the street.

While the majority of evictions happen because a tenant did not pay rent, Buchko said she always paid her rent on time.

According to documents filed with the New Britain Housing court, Buchko’s landlord, Judith Rice, started the eviction process due to non-payment of rent for June 2018. Buchko said she offered Rice rent for that month, but Rice refused it. Court documents also show that Rice could not produce any rent receipts from the beginning of the lease agreement from November 2017 to June 2018. Rice claimed that Buchko said she did not want any receipts.

While some argue that housing is a human right, it operates currently as a business. When a tenant doesn’t pay rent, landlords lose money. While some landlords, like Kris Rutkowski, who manages a little under 100 units in New Britain, will try to work with a tenant before handing out an eviction notice, it doesn’t always work out. Rutkowski is sometimes forced to evict.

“They say, ‘I can’t pay my rent, the landlord should somehow subsidize it or somehow be understanding,’” Rutkowski said. “Will the bank be understanding when they foreclose on my property? Will the city be understanding when they collect taxes?”  

But evicting a tenant doesn’t help either party. For the tenant, it often destabilizes their and their family’s lives. Possessions, jobs, relationships and community ties can be lost in the eviction process. Being forced to leave a neighborhood means children may have to change schools and lose relationships with friends and educators. Jobs can be lost in the chaos, compounding the problem.

For the landlord, it costs money to evict a tenant. Attorney’s fees, court costs, rent loss for the given months and damages to the property are some of the expenses landlords face in the process of evicting a tenant.

“It costs me more money in the long run,” Rutkowski said of evicting a tenant.

Sometimes things happen that are completely out of one’s control that ends up leading to eviction.

A clerical error on Kimberly Luke’s first paycheck sent her life into a spiral that she and her family are still trying to recover from years later. Due to one wrong number printed on her time sheet, the new mother’s paycheck was delayed and the family was unable to pay their rent on time. Luke’s landlord started the eviction process in May of 2016 and they had until June 30, 2016 to be out, according to documents filed with New Britain Housing court.

Following their eviction, Luke, her boyfriend Josh Bryant and their one-year-old son Adonis were left with no other options but to live in their 2003 Hyundai Santa Fe. The family of three slept in the car at night and showered at friends’ houses during the day while waiting for a spot at a local shelter to open up.

One day, after pulling out of the gas station, Bryant’s car started smoking. Bryant pulled over and the small SUV promptly burst into flames. But by a stroke of luck, the shelter called Luke that same day to notify her a spot had opened up for them.

Luke’s family stayed in a shelter for about a month while they were trying to find a new place to call home. With an eviction now on their record, options were limited. But Luke found a place listed on Craigslist on South Main Street in New Britain, and the shelter where Luke was staying assisted her with the first month’s rent and security deposit. The two-bedroom basement apartment has a whole host of issues, from leaky pipes and black mold to cockroaches and mice. The windows are also so drafty that one’s breath is visible in the wintertime.

“It’s frustrating when you’re working every single day and you’re paying for something you aren’t even comfortable in,” Luke said.

Luke and Bryant’s son recently tested positive for lead in his blood. Luke believes it’s a result of their living conditions and said she’d asked the landlord what paint he used on the walls – he didn’t know.

“We missed rent one time and this is the situation we have to deal with,” Luke said.

In some cases, eviction can set people back years and keep them there. An eviction on one’s record is akin to a black mark, limiting social mobility.

“Regardless of the situation, or the mistakes made, whatever the case was, we fixed those problems, we grew from those problems,” Bryant said. “Now we’re trying to find better, do better and that was taken away from us for years to come.”