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Creighton professor, alumnus co-author research on evictions in Omaha

Pierce GreenbergA Creighton University faculty member has partnered with a local attorney and Creighton alumnus to research how evictions in Omaha disproportionately affect communities of color.

Pierce Greenberg, PhD, assistant professor of sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Cultural and Social Studies, recently co-authored “Understanding Evictions in Omaha,” with attorney Gary Fischer, BA’75, JD’79. The project is a collaboration between Creighton’s Social Science Data Lab and Family Housing Advisory Services Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to helping people achieve housing security, where Fischer served as general counsel before retiring this summer.

Greenberg and Fischer were introduced through Palma Strand, JD, professor in the Graduate School. Fischer, who is married to Catherine Mahern, JD, the Connie Kearney Endowed Chair in Clinical Legal Education in the Creighton School of Law, had collected a number of eviction records from Nebraska courts.

Together, Fischer and Greenberg sorted through the public records, which Greenberg then used to create a heat map illustrating a stark reality: Most of the city’s evictions occur in areas that were historically segregated, particularly in parts of traditionally African American North Omaha and in public housing complexes in the southwestern edge of downtown Omaha.

“If you look at the map of evictions, you’ll see that they are very racially stratified, and are generally concentrated in the parts of town that have more people of color,” Greenberg says. “That’s sadly not surprising. But at the same time, I don’t think there’s been data of this sort to clearly illustrate that. And that’s my motivation for using maps to really show people where these hot spots are.”

Evictions, Greenberg says, have repercussions beyond housing instability. For example, children in families that are evicted are often forced to switch schools, leading to worse educational outcomes. Individuals who are evicted often move into group homes or experience homelessness, limiting their ability to socially distance and harming public health outcomes during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The report also cites research that indicates eviction can be a significant cause of poverty rather than merely a consequence. An eviction can disrupt a person’s future housing opportunities, result in a loss of possessions and damage credit.

The research, Greenberg says, is especially relevant given the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. Experts are expecting eviction cases to rise as those affected by job cuts and furloughs find themselves unable to pay rent. The report recommends potential solutions for lawmakers and community advocates, including reducing evictions of people living in subsidized housing and ensuring legal representation for people facing eviction.

“We just wanted to start the conversation,” Greenberg says, “and start it grounded with the evidence that these racial disparities do exist. And we hope that this leads to more conversation about this, and that it becomes the basis for action and policy change that can help reduce this problem.”

The project was supported by the Creighton Kingfisher Institute’s Research Fellows program. Greenberg’s research was also funded in part by the President’s Distinguished Curriculum Innovation and Pedagogical Research Grant.

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