A first-of-its-kind report on evictions in San Mateo County from two nonprofit legal organizations does not paint a complete picture of who is being evicted in the county and why, but it does offer a three-year snapshot based on renters who chose to contest that fate.
The Eviction Report 2016, a 12-page analysis of no-cause eviction cases taken by the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County and Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, shows 404 cases taken over the 12 months that ended in June of 2015, up from 99 cases over the year ending in June of 2012, a 308 percent increase.
These figures that combine the caseloads of the two legal-services groups are the latest available.
San Mateo County stands out for the prevalence of its no-cause evictions, said Shirley Gibson, directing attorney for the Legal Aid Society's housing practice. In San Francisco and Alameda counties, no-cause evictions represent 20 percent to 25 percent of reported cases, compared with about 50 percent in San Mateo County, she said.
That's an indication of "few, if any, legal impediments to eviction" in San Mateo County, she said.
Over the three-year period, 96 percent of the people filing cases with legal-aid lawyers in the county had incomes below $60,000.
Of the eviction cases these lawyers took over the 12 months beginning in July 2014, 49 percent were clients of Hispanic ethnicity, the report says. The county's Hispanic population, according to 2014 census data, is 25 percent.
African American clients represented 21.4 percent of the eviction cases over that 12-month period while making up 2.5 percent of the county's population.
The report is an attempt to consolidate eviction data for public officials in the county, Ms. Gibson said in an interview.
"We hope that the analysis of this data will contribute to a better understanding of the hidden epidemic of displacement in our county, and its potential to change the lives of our residents as well as the character of our communities," the report says.
The picture the report paints is hardly the whole picture in that most renters who receive eviction notices do not seek legal aid, Ms. Gibson said.
Bringing a lawyer into a dispute with a landlord can be disconcerting. Many people are fearful and would rather leave than fight, Ms. Gibson said.
"Psychologically, (contacting legal aid) can be a huge step for people," she said. There is also time pressure. Once a landlord files a case in court, a tenant has just five days to decide on whether to contest the eviction and seek legal assistance.
Evictions have after-effects on families, the report says, including diminished health, missed work and, potentially, the loss of a job.
Of the 1,100 households that filed cases with legal-aid lawyers in the 2014-15 fiscal year, 187 (17 percent) reported homelessness, according to a 2015 survey.
Avoiding homelessness can present its own risks. Moving in with other families leads to overcrowding and unsafe or unhealthy housing conditions, and has impacts on mental health, including correlating with a higher rate of suicide, the report says.