Yejide Travis lives in the Russell neighborhood. She was evicted from public housing last year. The experience left her feeling “terrorized,” she said.
She’s not the only one who’s experienced that feeling.
Jefferson County leads the state in evictions despite being home to a minority of renters, according to a new report from the Metropolitan Housing Coaltion. Evictions and foreclosures are clustered in certain areas of the county, with West Louisville being hit hardest. And Louisville’s eviction rate is twice the national average.
Travis said she was evicted the first time for having long-term guests who weren’t on the lease. She was evicted last year because Section 8 dropped her from the program and she couldn’t pay back rent.
She thinks she shouldn’t have lost her Section 8 voucher, and said she didn’t feel she was treated fairly by her landlord.
“No one ever talked to me, no one ever looked me in my eye and asked me any questions,” she said. “They made assumptions that something I was doing had to be illegal, immoral or unethical. And they acted on those assumptions because I’m homeless.”
Travis said she runs a nonprofit to help women in the community get on their feet as they go through college or seek employment. She thinks it was that work that got her in trouble with Section 8 authorities who didn’t understand her income. Now, she’s sleeping on the couch of one of the women she previously helped.
This year’s Metropolitan Housing Coalition annual housing report focuses on involuntary displacement, particularly through eviction or foreclosure. Its authors pointed to gentrification as a cause for this kind of movement.
“While reinvestment in neighborhoods that have experienced historical disinvestment is a positive action, the displacement of existing residents because they can no longer afford their housing costs, or do not feel welcome in public or commercial spaces, is not,” they wrote.
In the Louisville Metropolitan Statistical Area as a whole, the overall rate of homeownership is higher than at any point since 2005, the report said. But while about 70 percent of whites own their homes, roughly 36 percent of black and 37 percent of Hispanic or Latinx households own their homes. Some organizations are working to change those numbers.
Cathy Hinko, the executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, said the Louisville community needs to take a close look at the proposed developments coming to West Louisville, an area troubled by decades of disinvestment and home to a concentration of people of color.
“If we’re going into African-American neighborhoods, and we’re trying to bring change, we have to make a decision if we’re changing real estate value or lives,” Hinko said.
Some have questioned whether projects such as the Passport Health Plan corporate headquarters will bring economic development to West Louisville.
New companies moving into under-invested areas can raise housing prices and stymie those who have already been displaced as well as those who may be at risk. Hinko said the key is affordable rental housing that’s available everywhere in Louisville, not just poor areas.
In its report, the Metropolitan Housing Coalition’s authors call for policies that require community input before investment. They said that could help prevent displacement by taking the concerns of current residents into consideration before development takes place.