‘Wherever I Am Is Her Home’: A Mother and Her Young Daughter Navigate Eviction
In April 2021, Alexys Hatcher arrived at her home in Arlington, Texas, to find a notice on the door.
She had 24 hours, it said, to vacate the premises.
Hatcher, who had lost her income and fallen behind on rent when the shoe store where she was a manager closed during the coronavirus pandemic, had one primary concern: her 5-year-old daughter.
As their belongings — including a dollhouse and a pink polka dot toy car with Minnie Mouse on its door — were loaded into a U-Haul, Hatcher said she was “just trying to understand how this is going to affect her, knowing the pandemic has already affected her a lot.”
Hatcher and her daughter are among the people whose stories unfold in Facing Eviction, a documentary from FRONTLINE and Retro Report that premieres July 26 on PBS and online. Filmed over more than a year, as COVID-19 caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and major economic disruptions in the U.S., the documentary examines how a federal eviction moratorium and a massive rent-relief program played out in the lives of people across the country. The documentary, made with support from The WNET Group’s Chasing the Dream initiative, reveals that the effectiveness of those temporary pandemic housing protections ultimately depended on how state and local officials interpreted and enforced them.
Hatcher’s is a case in point. She became one of the first people to be evicted after the Texas Supreme Court began allowing evictions to move forward and, separately, a federal judge in the state cast doubt on the validity of an eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hatcher’s experience reflects a longstanding pattern observed by people who study eviction data, systemic inequities and the legacy of racially discriminatory housing policies.
“The greatest indicators of eviction are being Black, being a woman or having children,” Emily Benfer, then of the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, who went on to work at the White House helping implement a federal pandemic-rent-relief program and is now a visiting professor at the George Washington University Law School, said in the above excerpt from Facing Eviction. “We know that Black people are two times as likely to be evicted as their white counterparts, after controlling for education and other factors. We know that the single greatest predictor of an eviction is the presence of a child.”
Millions of people — including Hatcher — would eventually receive federal rent relief that helped them either stay in their homes or find housing after being evicted.
But navigating daily life in the interim was a challenge. The excerpt from Facing Eviction follows Hatcher and her daughter to Hatcher’s grandmother’s house, where the duo spent their first night after being evicted. Hatcher tried to create a sense of stability for her daughter, even as she made call after call, looking for a place of their own to live.
“She knew something wasn’t right. She was expecting something was going to happen,” Hatcher said of her daughter. “But one thing she knows is, Mommy is always there; Mommy is still here. So it must be OK. You know, even though she knows her stuff is not at home. Even though she knows we’re not going back there, she doesn’t know we don’t have a home because to her — sorry.”
Hatcher teared up.
“To her, wherever I am is her home.”
For the full story, watch Facing Eviction, a documentary from FRONTLINE and Retro Report with support from The WNET Group’s Chasing the Dream initiative. From a team led by producer and writer Bonnie Bertram, Facing Eviction premieres Tuesday, July 26, 2022, at 10/9c on PBS stations (check local listings). The documentary will also be available to stream at pbs.org/frontline, in the PBS Video App and on FRONTLINE’s YouTube channel.
Correction: This story has been updated to include Emily Benfer’s current role.