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.
On Tuesday, July 26, FRONTLINE and Retro Report will air and begin streaming “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.
“Facing Eviction” is supported by Chasing the Dream, a public media initiative from The WNET Group that examines poverty, justice and economic opportunity in America.
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.
The FRONTLINE and Retro Report 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; and 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.
“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.
“Facing Eviction” will premiere 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. Subscribe to Retro Report’s and FRONTLINE’s newsletter to get updates on events, podcast episodes and more reporting related to Facing Eviction.
Facing Eviction is 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.
About Retro Report
Retro Report is a nonprofit news organization that uses the clear lens of history to bring a greater understanding of current events and to fight misinformation. They have released more than 250 short documentaries, including through longstanding partnerships with The New York Times and The New Yorker. They have produced two prime-time television series for PBS and VICE and have been recognized with Emmy Awards, Edward R. Murrow Awards, Mirror Awards, Webbys, a Gerald Loeb Award and many others. Their feature documentaries include the Emmy-nominated Enemies of the People: Trump and the Political Press and FRONTLINE’s American Reckoning. Retro Report also supports middle and high school teachers through their education initiative Retro Report in the Classroom. Funding for Facing Eviction is provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Economic Hardship Reporting Project, and Pulitzer Center.
FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. FRONTLINE has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 100 Emmy Awards and 28 Peabody Awards. Visit pbs.org/frontline and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to learn more. FRONTLINE is produced at GBH in Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional support for FRONTLINE is provided by the Abrams Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Park Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation; and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund, with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation, and additional support from Koo and Patricia Yuen. Funding for Facing Eviction is provided by The WNET Group’s Chasing the Dream, a public media initiative reporting on poverty, justice, and economic opportunity in America, with major funding by The JPB Foundation and additional funding from The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim, III.
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