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Senator Presses Landlord Over Report It Evicts Black Renters At Higher Rates

Sen. Sherrod Brown wants answers from a corporate landlord after a report by an advocacy group found the firm has been filing for eviction much more often in predominantly Black neighborhoods during the pandemic.

"While evictions can have long-lasting, damaging effects on renters in normal times, they are especially troubling during a pandemic where safe, stable housing can literally mean the difference between life and death," Brown wrote in his letter to Don Mullen, a former Goldman Sachs partner and founder and CEO of Pretium Partners.

The letter cites reporting by NPR and Bloomberg about findings by the non-profit Private Equity Stakeholder Project that companies owned by Pretium filed to evict more than 1,000 residents during the pandemic. The group also found a disparate impact on Black renters.

It looked at four counties where Pretium owns hundreds of single-family rental homes in each, comparing two mostly Black counties in Georgia with two mostly white counties in Florida where the median incomes are similar.

But the report found that in the two white counties, Pretium has been filing for eviction against 1% and 2.5% of the people renting homes there.

By comparison, they filed to evict 9.5% and 12% of their residents in majority-Black counties in Georgia — rates upwards of four times higher.

"It's incredibly disturbing," says Jim Baker, the group's executive director.

Pretium declined an interview for the earlier NPR story but said in a statement that the report is misleading and makes "baseless assertions." The company says its property managers "work with residents and seek to avoid eviction."

Pretium also says it provides "equal rental opportunities and support to all of our residents." The company says it does not track the race, gender or ethnicity of residents.

In his letter, Brown expressed concern the company has apparently filed more than 1,000 eviction cases while an eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been in effect. "I am troubled that your companies may have pursued evictions in contravention to the CDC's moratorium," he wrote.

The CDC rules don't block landlords from filing eviction cases, just from actually evicting people who have availed themselves of the CDC protections. And in order to be protected, renters need to know about the moratorium, sign a CDC declaration form, and give that to their landlord.

In response to Brown's letter, a spokesperson for Pretium Partners said in a statement that the company can "unequivocally confirm that no individual covered by a valid CDC declaration has been evicted from our properties."

Brown is requesting a briefing by the company to talk about compliance with the CDC rules and the apparent disparate impact on Black renters. "I want to understand your company's eviction policies and practices and the reported disparities in eviction filings," he wrote. The Pretium statement says the company looks forward to engaging with the senator and "clearing up any misconceptions."

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NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.