Carmen Ponce in her apartment in Antioch. Ponce lost her job during the pandemic when the business she worked at was forced to shut down, leaving her struggling to pay rent. (Erin Baldassari/KQED)
The place with the highest rate of evictions in the Bay Area during the pandemic wasn't a big city like Oakland or San Francisco — instead it was a suburb that has been radically transformed by housing crisis after housing crisis. Antioch, a working-class town on the outskirts of the Bay, has seen an influx of Black and Brown folks pushed from more expensive cities in search of a place they can afford.
In our first episode of Season 2 of Sold Out, we visit a neighborhood in Antioch with a high concentration of evictions. We’ll hear from renters, activists and politicians to find out how a lack of affordable housing is remaking the suburbs, not just in the Bay Area but across the country.
Evicted: A Suburban Story [TRANSCRIPT]
Hey, I’m Erin Baldassari (host).
And I’m Molly Solomon (host).
We want to take you back in time — two years ago — to the beginning of the pandemic.
ERIN: We were all told to shelter in place. And as housing reporters, our first thought — how will people pay rent?
MOLLY: We heard from a lot of people who lost jobs, or had hours cut.
LAURA YOPIHUA: I don't know what to do after that without job, without income.
MOLLY: People were forced to make really difficult decisions. Like choosing between buying groceries or paying rent.
LAURA: I don't have any money to pay the bills. I just have saving the money for the food.
MOLLY: And we heard from people afraid they’d end up on the streets.
JACKIE LOWERY: It's just really scary right now.
MOLLY: Entire families were at risk.
JACKIE: I have to have a roof over my head. You know, I just have to, and of course, my grandbabies and the whole family does.
ERIN: Millions across the country were on the edge of eviction. The stakes could not have been higher.
SAN FRANCISCO CITY ATTORNEY DAVID CHIU: If tens of thousands of folks are forced from their homes, COVID will be much more likely to spread and have devastating consequences.
ERIN: States, local governments, even the CDC knew they had to act — so they put in moratoriums to block evictions. And Congress handed out nearly $50 billion to help people catch up on missed rent.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: If we don’t act now, there could be a wave of evictions and foreclosures in the coming months.
MOLLY: But people werestill being evicted.
JANEE BRICE: The sheriff came out, and I ended up having to move with my daughter.
MOLLY:And now, as those pandemic protections expire — it’s getting worse.
(Sold Out theme song begins.)
ERIN: In this season of Sold Out, we’re looking at the patterns of evictions. The ones in the headlines, and the ones that have quietly devastated lives for decades.
The more we looked at who is getting evicted and where, it became clear that evictions are a symptom of a larger problem.
MOLLY: Over the next few weeks, we’ll show you how this problem sits at the crossroads of inequality, racism, power and privilege.
And we’ll introduce you to the people fighting for change.
From KQED, this is Sold Out: Rethinking Housing in America. Stay tuned.
(Sold Out theme song ends.)
(Sounds: Birds, sprinklers on lawns, light happy music)
MOLLY: When most people think about the suburbs, they think about good schools and safe neighborhoods, single-family houses with manicured lawns, and white picket fences.
Tamisha Torres-Walker wanted that for her family. She’d rented her whole life, and was ready to buy a place where she could raise her two sons. When she looked around, she found that most parts of the San Francisco Bay Area were too expensive. But not Antioch.
TAMISHA TORRES-WALKER: Antioch just showed up as like this place that was still affordable for people who wanted to become first-time homebuyers.
MOLLY: Even though the place she found wasn’t her dream house, it checked a lot of boxes.
TAMISHA: The house picked me. It was like it had everything a single mom with two sons could need. We needed three bedrooms: It had it. I wanted a fireplace: It had it. My sons wanted dogs: It had a huge backyard.
ERIN: In 2015, Tamisha bought her first home. But living in Antioch, she noticed a lot of other newcomers weren’t buying homes — they were renting. They’d been priced out of bigger cities, like San Francisco and Oakland.
TAMISHA: The rental crisis, the unaffordability of, like, rents skyrocketing in the Bay Area is what started to push everybody else out this way.
ERIN: Tamisha isn't just a homeowner. She’s a city council member, has been for the last year. So we asked her to show us around.
MOLLY: Antioch is home to more than 115,000 people. It’s a commuter town on the outer fringes of the Bay Area, about an hour’s drive from San Francisco. Highway 4 divides it in two.
TAMISHA: We're like right up against Highway 4 right now.
MOLLY: On one side of the highway, there are rows and rows of single-family homes, peppered with strip malls, big box stores and a golf course. On the other side, there’s Tamisha’s district.
ERIN: It’s a huge district — stretching about 15 miles along the San Joaquin River Delta. There’s a quaint, historic downtown, and a lot of industry.
ERIN: As we drive along the waterfront, she points out paper mills, chemical plants and oil refineries.
TAMISHA: A lot of people call it "Refinery Row."
ERIN: Her district is also where a lot the apartment buildings and townhomes are. Especially in this one neighborhood — the Sycamore Corridor.
TAMISHA: This is us, Sycamore Square, and a lot more apartments.
ERIN: On the neighborhood’s busiest street, there’s a small shopping center, with a liquor store, a smoke shop, and a fried fish and chicken joint.
TAMISHA: So this, all of this, is high-density housing. Like, everything on this side of the street is all high-density housing.
MOLLY: We came here because we’d been gathering data on pandemic evictions in the Bay Area. And when we crunched the numbers, Antioch stood out.
It was the city with the highest eviction rate — 22 times higher than in Oakland. Almost a year and a half into the pandemic, there had been 91 evictions in Antioch. In Oakland, a city four times bigger, there had been just 33.
ERIN: But it’s important to note that our data only captures evictions enforced by the sheriff. And many people leave before that point, so we know even more people were evicted during that time.
TAMISHA: I thought that we were not supposed to be evicting people during a global pandemic.
ERIN: The highest concentration of evictions in Antioch was right here in the Sycamore Corridor, and we saw clear signs of that as we drove around. As we turned one corner, we saw two houses with big piles of stuff on the front lawn.
TAMISHA: That's probably somebody being put out.
MOLLY: All of that stuff outside?
TAMISHA: That's probably somebody being put out.
MOLLY: There was furniture, kids' toys, cardboard boxes with papers and letters spilling out of them — all of it wet.
ERIN: Today's the sixth. So that means that if you got a three-day ‘pay or quit’ on the first?
MOLLY: You might be out now.
ERIN: You might be out now, yeah. People might be starting to leave right now, yeah.
MOLLY: A couple doors down, there was another empty house. The neighbors said the family had left months ago. An eviction notice was still taped to the front door.
Talking to people in Tamisha’s district, it seemed like everyone had an eviction story.
NATE HAYES: They gave us a notice, and we didn't really know what to do, so we just moved. I've been staying with my friends mostly. Just staying with my friends, and trying to get by.
DEVIN URBACH: You know, it's been so hard to get help. You have to really, like, know somebody that knows somebody.
MARY ROBERTSON: It's not easy after you have an eviction. It’s not easy finding another place. It’s not easy.
ERIN: This is not the vision of the suburbs we thought we knew.
CHRIS SCHILDT: We've had this story that's been told to us, that the suburbs is the place of white picket fences. And that has been true, but it's never been the entire story.
ERIN: That’s Chris Schildt. She’s the director of the Regional Suburban Organizing Project. And she says, this idea that suburbs represent white middle-class success, that’s not really the case anymore. Across the country, suburbs are home to the largest and fastest-growing population of people living in poverty. That’s according to research from the Brookings Institution.
CHRIS: We can't deny there are more people of color living in the suburbs. There are more low-income people living in suburbs. There are more renters living in suburbs than ever before.So we need to look at and understand what's happening in suburban places like Antioch in order to understand what's happening in this country.
MOLLY: The evictions we’re seeing in Antioch are tied to the nation’s housing crisis, and the seeds of those evictions were planted 30 years ago.
MOLLY: In the early '90s, Antioch was a destination. There was a building boom going on, and a lot of middle-class people of color were moving in.
CHRIS: A lot of Latinx and African American folks who had moved out to buy a home, maybe to buy their first home, or to move into a bigger or better home from where they were living before.
ERIN: Michael Carter grew up in East Oakland, a historically Black neighborhood. He’s an investment banker, and in the early '90s, he wanted a safer place to raise his two sons.
MICHAEL CARTER: Seeing how Oakland was beginning to change and the amount of crime that I was beginning to notice, I didn't want my boys growing up in that area.
ERIN: He saw opportunity in Antioch. He found a really nice four-bedroom home for less than $150,000. It was in one of the fancier parts of town, out by a golf course.
MICHAEL: That wasn't going to happen in Oakland, no way.
MOLLY: Michael and his family were part of this wave of Black families moving to Antioch. It was a big shift for the city. In 1980, Antioch was almost 90% white, and it had a history as a sundown town. There had actually been laws in place to prohibit people of color from walking the streets after dark. Even after those laws were repealed, some people of color told us they still didn’t feel safe.
But between 1990 and 2000, the city’s Black population more than quadrupled, rising to almost 10% of the population. The Latino population doubled.
MICHAEL: We were actually seeing a diverse demographic moving to Antioch.
ERIN: Then the foreclosure crisis hit, and it hit families like Michael’s especially hard. He ended up losing his home and becoming a renter.
MICHAEL: 2008 hit and everything just got slammed.
ERIN: Foreclosures tore through low-income suburbs across the country. Again, here’s Chris Schildt:
CHRIS: It was specifically low-income suburban cities with large African American, Latinx homeowners of color nationally that had the highest foreclosure rates.
MOLLY: In Antioch, a quarter of all homeowners with mortgages lost their homes.
CHRIS: That area was one of the hardest hit in the country for foreclosures.
MOLLY: Chris says that a lot of those homes weren’t bought by new homeowners — they were bought by investors.
CHRIS: And you saw this dramatic shift.
ERIN: Over the past 20 years, the population in Antioch has continued to grow. But the number of homeowners has stayed relatively flat, even dropping slightly, while the number of renters grew by 60%.
CHRIS: It was a complete flip. It went from being a home-owning community to a renter community in terms of who is moving in.
ERIN: A big part of that was surging rents in cities like San Francisco and Oakland, pushing renters further and further away in search of any place they could afford.
CHRIS: I don't think Antioch’s story is unique.
MOLLY: You can see the effects of gentrification in suburbs around Chicago, Atlanta, Boston. Places that were once affordable have gotten more and more expensive.
CHRIS: That is part of a regional trend and part of a national trend of what's happening in the suburbs.
MOLLY: As more low-income renters move out to the suburbs, evictions there are going up.
TIM: There were a lot of Black households, in particular, moving to South King County because that was the last affordable space to be. But now we see that's the space where most evictions are happening. Over half of the evictions in the whole county are happening in very few neighborhoods where that displacement has happened.
ERIN: It’s not a coincidence that evictions are hitting Black neighborhoods the hardest, because evictions and race are deeply connected. When Tim looked at our data on evictions in the Bay Area, he saw that Black households were evicted at a higher rate than white households. It’s the same pattern he saw in Seattle.
TIM: In just one year of data, I found that Black women were getting evicted seven times more than white women, and Black households in general are getting evicted four times more than white households, which was a huge disparity.
MOLLY: In a lot of ways, the suburbs haven’t caught up to this new reality. They don’t typically have the money or staffing for social services that big cities have. Again, here’s Chris Schildt:
CHRIS: We really stopped investing in our suburbs in the '80s and '90s. In community infrastructure, in nonprofits and social services, in our schools. We've moved away from investing in our communities in general in the past 30, 40 years.
ERIN: And, suburbs don’t have the kinds of renter protections that big cities have to help people stay in their homes. It leaves renters with few options when things dogo wrong. When that eviction notice gets taped to the front door.
That’s coming up, after this break.
(Sounds: People walking, greeting one another)
ERIN: Hi, how are you? I'm Erin.
CARMEN: Hi. Carmen.
ERIN: Hola,cómo estás?
CARMEN: Bien, gracias.
ERIN: We met Carmen Ponce at her apartment in Antioch. It’s a small place on the ground floor of a two-story building. And immediately, when you walk in, you see these boxes: big plastic bins stacked on top of each other, ready in case she needs to leave.
CARMEN: Si miras alrededor de mi apartamento, casi todo ya esta en caja, todo vacío.
MOLLY: Carmen lives here with her teenage daughter and 1-year-old granddaughter. She also has two adult sons who sometimes stay with her. Ever since they got an eviction notice, they’ve been living in this sort of limbo.
The problems with her landlord started when the pandemic shut down businesses like hers. Carmen cuts hair at a barbershop in a town nearby. And because of COVID, she was out of work for almost a year. She fell behind on the $1,300 she pays in rent every month. It was a difficult time.
CARMEN: Pues,fue una temporada bien difícil, de verdad.
ERIN: So many people we talked to while reporting on evictions told us they were already struggling to pay rent. And then something else would happen, something that made catching up nearly impossible.
In Carmen’s case, she was shot just outside her home, in an incident that had nothing to do with her.
CARMEN: Tengo mi hija que apenas tiene diecisiete años, y que tenía su bebe de un año, que yo me hago responsable de ella. Eso es que hace manternerme fuerte. MOLLY: Carmen spent a month in the hospital and another four months recovering at home. She started working again last July, but it wasn’t full time. Then, things got a lot worse. Her property manager dropped off a notice at her door. It said, pay the back rent or get out. She owed at least $15,000.
CARMEN: A donde me voy con mi hija y con mi nieta? O sea, la única opción era sacar mis cosas en la calle y dormir en mi carro afuera.
MOLLY: Where would she go with her daughter and granddaughter? She thought their only option would be to stay in her car because she didn’t have enough money to move somewhere else.
ERIN: At this point in the pandemic, Carmen was still covered by California’s eviction moratorium. So, rather than leaving right away, she waited. Legally, the landlord would need to file a formal eviction in court to actually force her out. But that lawsuit never came.
CARMEN: No para el acosto constante del manager. Porque también me hable por telefono, que cuando me voy a ir?
ERIN: Instead, Carmen says the property manager keeps harassing her, calling her again and again, asking her when she’s going to leave. They even gave her a second eviction notice in January this year, but they still haven’t filed a lawsuit.
BOB GUNSON: There was no harassment, it was just getting her attention.
MOLLY: Bob Gunson is Carmen’s property manager, and he says his office only called to get her signed up for the rent relief program.
BOB: That's the only reason. And we've got quite a few tenants. We've got some signed into that program, and they weren't aware of it, and it's helped them out a lot.
MOLLY: Carmen did sign up for rent relief. She got a partial payout, but not for everything she owes, and doesn’t know when the rest of the money will come. Work has been slow, and she still isn’t making the same amount she was before the pandemic.
CARMEN: Yo estoy, pues, que no se que va pasar el dia de mañana.
MOLLY: She says she doesn’t know what’s going to happen from one day to the next. It’s depressing, and Carmen knows there’s lots of people in Antioch going through the same thing.
CARMEN: Da tristeza, da tristeza en la situación en la que, en lo personal en la que yo me encuentro y en la que mucha gente en Antioch estamos viviendo porque yo se que todavía hay mucha gente que está pasando lo mismo que yo.
ERIN: That’s because Antioch is becoming less affordable. During the pandemic, rents here shot up 26%. Nearly two-thirds of all Antioch renters are cost burdened, meaning they pay more than a third of their income on housing. As housing gets more expensive, it’s harder to hold on to, especially for people living paycheck to paycheck.
MOLLY: That leads to more turnover. People leave, they’re priced out, or they’re evicted. City Councilmember Tamisha Torres-Walker says that churn hurts the whole community.
TAMISHA: It creates anxiety, instability, it creates uncertainty, and that's unfortunate because neighborhoods can't thrive like that.
MOLLY: It’s one reason why Tamisha is helping to lead a growing movement of Antioch renters pushing for change — a movement that started in the Sycamore Corridor.
That’s coming up after this break.
ERIN: For a long time after Tamisha Torres-Walker moved to Antioch, it didn’t really feel like home. She was actually thinking about leaving.
TAMISHA: And then I started to care about the conditions in the community and actually like being here, and made a bigger commitment to change where I lived. So in a sense, I made a commitment to stay.
ERIN: And she realized there wasn’t anyone on Antioch’s City Council who she felt really represented her district. So, she decided to run.
TAMISHA: I heard not one elected official talk about the conditions in the community, the real issues and conditions in the community, here in this district.
MOLLY: Tamisha spent countless hours knocking on doors — a lot of it in the Sycamore Corridor. She talked to people, asking them what kinds of issues they were dealing with.
TAMISHA: You know, poverty, harm, violence, police misconduct and brutality, dilapidated conditions, just the quality of life, the way people were living.
MOLLY: And a lot of people were getting evicted.
TAMISHA: We were talking to people and they were telling us, ‘Oh, this person, that person next door don't live here no more. They moved out last week.’ Like literally, like they got kicked out.
ERIN: As more low-income renters moved to suburbs like Antioch, Francisco’s seen the fight for renters’ rights follow close behind.
FRANCISCO: Because it's much more expensive now, it's much more expensive, and there's less and less places to move into.
MOLLY: When Francisco heard Tamisha was running for city council, he and other ACCE members jumped in to support her campaign.
FRANCISCO: And the reason I got involved is because I knew that if Tamisha won, we could change the city council.
MOLLY: Maybe they would actually have a chance of passing policies to help renters. She did win, and that’s when their work really began.
ERIN: Antioch doesn’t have the history of tenant activism that you see in big cities like San Francisco or Los Angeles. And they knew Tamisha wouldn’t be able to get any new policies passed unless renters spoke up. So ACCE began recruiting.
(Sounds: A man knocking on a door)
JAIME CALDER: Hello? How are you? My name is Jaime, I’m with ACCE institute.
ERIN: They got people to write letters to their representatives, hold signs outside of City Hall, and show up on Zoom meetings.
JACKIE LOWERY: Hi, can everyone hear me? OK. Good evening, Mayor, city council members, staff and residents of Antioch. My name is Jackie Lowery and I’m a resident of Antioch, a renter, and a member of ACCE.
MOLLY: The Antioch City Council is now actively debating tenant protections, and renters areshowing up.
JACKIE: My family and I moved to Antioch for a better life. But from what I’ve been seeing in our city with our tax-paying and rent-paying citizens is shameful. You have a rental community in Antioch that needs your help right now.
CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: Families are struggling to pay their rent, and live with the daily worry if the next rent increase will be what puts them out.
CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: Rents are constantly increasing. Many of us are just going back to work because of the pandemic. We simply can't afford the high rents and don't see a way forward.
MOLLY: They’re demanding three big things: a cap on yearly rent increases, a new law to make it illegal for landlords to harass their tenants, and another that makes it harder for landlords to evict. It’s the first time renters are pushing for these kinds of protections in Antioch. And it’s by no means a sure thing.
ERIN: Lots of people don’t want these policies to pass — landlords and other property owners don’t want more government regulation. Not to mention a couple city council members who are pushing back. There’s more meetings on the books before the council will cast their final votes.
But no matter what happens with these proposals, Tamisha is hopeful.
TAMISHA: People are organizing. There are people who are organizing themselves as they're starting to see that they need to create a voice from the ground. And I think that's the greatest change any community could see is people building community.
ERIN: Renters are taking a stand, and fighting to stay in Antioch.
TAMISHA: I don't think that's happened here in Antioch, especially for people who have transitioned here. And I see it happening now and I'm excited about it.
FRANCISCO: Some people don't even realize that you could actually fight in a big group, and win.
MOLLY: For Francisco and members of ACCE, there’s no fight more important than the fight to stay housed.
FRANCISCO: And it's important to protect that, because what else do you have if you don't have a home?
MOLLY: That’s the question that really got us thinking about evictions in the first place. Because home is the center of our lives, where we can be ourselves.
ERIN: It shapes our identities and keeps our families safe. And if we suddenly had to leave, we’d feel lost, disconnected. But that’s what happens when you’re evicted — you lose your home, and so much more.
MOLLY: Coming up on Sold Out: We’ll look at who's more likely to be on the receiving end of evictions, and how the consequences can follow you for years.
JEAN KENDRICK: It's hard. Not even my worst enemy, I wouldn't wish this on.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE CORI BUSH: Who speaks for us, and who speaks for single parents? Who speaks for Black women? Who speaks for us?
JACOB FABER: I would argue that one of the biggest reasons, if not the biggest reason, is this weight of history.
ERIN: Sold Out is a production of KQED. This episode was written and reported by us, Erin Baldassari and Molly Solomon.
Adhiti Bandlamudi produced this episode. Kyana Moghadam is our senior producer. Brendan Willard is our sound engineer. Rob Speight wrote our theme song. Natalia Aldana is our senior engagement producer, and Gerald Fermin is our engagement intern.
MOLLY: Thanks to our editor, Erika Kelly. Additional editing from Jessica Placzek and Otis Taylor Jr.
If you liked this episode, we think you’ll like another podcast from KQED, American Suburb. A big thank-you to Sandhya Dirks, whose previous reporting on Antioch really helped guide us.
ERIN: We couldn’t have made this season without Ethan Toven-Lindsey, Holly Kernan, Erika Aguilar and Vinnee Tong.
Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week!
For more in-depth reporting on the housing crisis, check out our podcast, Sold Out: Rethinking Housing in America. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, NPR One, TuneIn or on your favorite podcast listening app.