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FRONTLINE: Facing Eviction

Dallas Constables oversee movers carrying out an eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dec. 16, 2020.
Retro Report/FRONTLINE (PBS)
Dallas Constables oversee movers carrying out an eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dec. 16, 2020.

Premieres Tuesday, July 26, 2022 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV / Thursday, July 28 at 10 p.m. on KPBS 2 / On demand with PBS Video App

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down the economy, tens of millions of Americans faced the risk of being evicted from their homes, prompting an unprecedented, temporary federal ban on evictions and a massive rent relief program.

FRONTLINE and Retro Report present "Facing Eviction," an intimate look at the experience of people across the country living through this precarious time — from tenants and landlords to lawyers and judges, as well as the law enforcement officers carrying out evictions.

For over a year, producer and writer Bonnie Bertram led a team of reporters and field producers as they reported on evictions across the country and found that the effectiveness of the pandemic housing protections ultimately depended on how state and local officials enforced it.

“Much of a tenant’s experience during the pandemic was completely dependent upon the zip code that they lived in,” says Emily Benfer, who tracked how the policies were playing out for the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.

FRONTLINE "Facing Eviction" Preview

The documentary captures the heart-wrenching experience of losing one’s home in real time. Viewers meet:

  • Alexys Hatcher, a single mother of a five-year-old daughter who lost her income and fell short on rent after the store she managed closed during the pandemic
  • June Robinson, a mother of an 11-year old whose landlord deemed her as a squatter
  • Teresa Trabucco, whose financial situation dramatically changed when her son was no longer able to attend in-person school, and the restaurant she worked at became take-out only

From New Jersey to Texas to California, "Facing Eviction" paints a portrait of the financial, legal and emotional turmoil evictions have on tenants — many of whom are disproportionately people of color, women, and have young children living with them.

"Facing Eviction" examines those on the other side of the eviction equation, too — specifically small landlords, who own nearly half of the affordable housing in the U.S. One landlord, Sandra Stanley, tells FRONTLINE and Retro Report that despite being able to work with her tenants on paying rent, she was forced to dip into her retirement savings to pay the taxes she owed.

The film also shows the role of the judicial system in navigating the pandemic eviction policies.

Related: What Happened To Poverty in America in 2021

“I have to visit the moral obligation a lot more because the legal obligation is in black and white…. It does not take into account the gray areas. You know, and that’s the reason I listen to both sides, because once you do that, that gray area is going to be exposed…. You know, the stakes are high,” Texas Judge KaTina Whitfield tells FRONTLINE and Retro Report.

With federal and state eviction bans expired, and the last of the government’s rental relief money expected to be paid out, millions of Americans continue to live with the fear of being evicted. "Facing Eviction" is a timely and poignant look at a crisis that many fear is coming to a head.

Millions of Americans can’t afford rent and only a quarter of those who need government help get it. What happens to everyone else? For many, it means they live in squalor. But figuring out who’s responsible is harder than you think. In this episode of the FRONTLINE DISPATCH, NPR correspondent Laura Sullivan heads to Dallas, where the city, low-income residents and a prominent landlord sometimes described as a slumlord, become the moving pieces in a century-and-a-half old problem.

Watch On Your Schedule:

“Facing Eviction” will premiere Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at 10/9c on PBS. The documentary will also be available to stream at pbs.org/frontline, in the PBS Video App and on FRONTLINE’s YouTube channel.

Credits:

A FRONTLINE production with Retro Report. The producer and writer is Bonnie Bertram. The co-producers are Anne Checler and Erik German. The associate producer is Emily Orr. The senior producers are Nina Chaudry and Frank Koughan. The executive producer of Retro Report is Kyra Darnton. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.