In defence of moving to zone 4

Redbridge station. Image: Sunil060902/Wikimedia Commons.

As a hip young millennial, by rights me and my housemate should be living in a £900 per month loft in Shoreditch/Dalston/Stoke Newington, where he has the bed and I have a “mezzanine floor” which is really just a large shelf with a mattress on, fearing for my life every time I get up in the dark. Alternatively, we could go for an artsy flat with cacti growing out of the wall but also no hot water (I’ve been there) for a mere £520 per month.

It’s not often, as a young person, that you get advised to shed the shackles of coolness, nightlife, bars and even a Sainsbury’s Local in favour of your friendly Zone 4 location nearly in Essex. But that is what I am here to do.

About October last year, me and my current housemate decided we would finally live together because 1) we were both sick of our current housing situations and 2) we knew we’d get on. The only problem was we were both poor and flats in London are expensive. So we had three choices – compromise on location, on price, or on quality.

We decided to do the first.

When we found a flat in the suburbs, we both started desperately justifying it. It’s right by Redbridge tube. It’s a short commute to work for us both. It’s £50 cheaper than any flat we’ve seen and actually under our budget. It even has nice parquet floors.

After a fair bit of wrangling with the landlord needing a double deposit lest all our references be fake, despite the fact neither of us have ever been late on rent in our lives, we got it: The Flat Of Dreams right out in Zone 4.

And it’s perfect.

So, here is my defence of Zone 4 And Not Living In The Hippest Places.

It’s cheap and large AND we have double rooms each

As mentioned, for £575 a month in rent, we each have double rooms, there’s a lot of hallway and a big living room, bathroom, small kitchen, and a lot of cupboards. The best bit, though, is the bay window and balcony with a panoramic view of the Redbridge roundabout and the tube station, which is excellent for people watching.

It’s not expensive and neither of us have to sleep in a hallway in lieu of a room. I’d say this was a stereotype of many hipper more central locations, but seeing horror stories about airing cupboards/under the stairs cupboards/an actual shelf, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration.


We have Wanstead right next door

I have come to think of Wanstead as a sweet, quiet oasis, in which, on Saturday mornings, I can see green grass and people with small dogs, hear a bird sing and breathe air that is probably only 45 per cent saturated with pollution. Seriously, it’s really good.

There are a lot of places in the suburbs of the capital where you can reap the rewards of swapping the hip stuff for things a bit further out. This one has one of the best high streets in the country, and loads of nice pubs that could almost be in the countryside. It’s great.

Big supermarkets are few and far between in London

Having moved around a lot in London I am always craving a big supermarket. I feel soothed in their large cathedral like aisles where I can browse for hours, buying things I don’t need.

But you don’t really get many big old Tesco Extras in the middle zones of London. In sweet Zone 4, however, we have a big Tesco,  medium Tesco, medium Sainsbury’s, another medium Sainsbury’s, many Lidl and a Co-op. Like – yes you may think that is mundane, but when you need a baking tin at short notice on a Tuesday night it’s ideal.

It takes literally 20 minutes to get into central London

I mean it’s on the Central Line. It’s not exactly two hours on a pacer train away (yes, friends who live in south west, it takes 45 minutes to get from yours to mine so you can definitely manage it).

The night tube is a thing

We have two things on our high street open after 9pm – a Spar in the petrol station and also the Beefeater pub. If neither of these things tickle your fancy on a night out, the night tube now does run and calls at our very Zone 4 station. Even going out in Brixton only takes an hour home, with enough time to eat a Maccies in the station before you get on the train.

I’m not going to pretend I don’t go to bed at 10pm every night, but the network of night busses is also good, along with Uber. 

It’s nice.

I like where I live, it’s a good flat and it’s a cheaper location than everywhere else. Yes, even though Wanstead is recommended for families who don’t quite want to leave London yet, there’s literally nothing around Redbridge station – but for sacrificing a postcode, we got somewhere pleasant we can afford between just the two of us without too much hassle, which is saying a lot in London. Loads of good stuff is in walking distance and to be honest I can’t even be bothered trying to be hip enough to have cool clubs and pubs on my doorstep.

Living in Zone Four is just more like living in a normal non-Londoney place – it takes 20 minutes to get into the city centre. It’s reduced my stress levels a lot because there aren’t always people around . And come on, it’s London, there’s a tube every four minutes.

I just think it’s something we all need to consider, rather than turning it into the only-being-able-to-afford-a-zone-four-flat joke.

 
 
 
 

Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.