Journalism students help The Day investigate evictions crisis in southeastern Connecticut

UConn student Jake Kelly, center, asks a question while he and his fellow students, Faith Greenberg, left, and Meredith Veilleux, right, interview a housing mediator Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, in an empty courtroom in New London Superior Court. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

With the evictions crisis rising in high-priced Connecticut, Prof. Mike Stanton's investigative reporting class in Fall 2022 looked into the impact on the people of southeastern Connecticut. The result was the story and sidebar, “A Day in Eviction Court,” published on March 5, 2023 in The Day, a daily newspaper in New London.

The Day, an independent newspaper owned by a public trust, has a longstanding relationship with the UConn Journalism Department. To enable the students to hit the ground running at the start of the Fall 2022 semester, Stanton obtained a database in August from the Connecticut Judiciary – a spreadsheet of some 100,000 eviction cases in the state of Connecticut from 2017 to 2022. The team later received an updated database through the end of 2022, giving them six years of data.

Five undergraduate students – Wyatt Cote, Faith Greenberg, Hudson Kamphausen, Jake Kelly and Meredith Veilleux – worked with Stanton to analyze the data, identify trends and statistics, statewide and by county and city/town so that we could break down what was happening in the communities of New London County. The students sorted the data chronologically and geographically to show where evictions occurred and to chart how they fell off during the pandemic moratorium on evictions and subsequently rose last year above pre-pandemic levels.

The class also enlisted a wealth of data and studies – from the Connecticut Bar Foundation, the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and Connecticut Legal Aid and national housing advocacy groups – to show how evictions disproportionately affect poor single mothers, chiefly minorities.

To tell the human stories behind the numbers, the students spent weeks going to sessions of housing court in New London and interviewing tenants, landlords, lawyers, court mediators, judges, court officials and non-profit advocates. One woman we identified, who became a central figure in our story, was a grandmother fighting eviction while caring for two young grandchildren and her dying husband, who passed way during our reporting. Because this kind of reporting can take longer than anticipated – getting data, reaching people, persuading them to cooperate, etc. – the project carried beyond the fall semester, with the students contributing to its completion for publication in early March.

This project was part of a larger, year-long project by The Day, the Housing Solutions Lab, to not only identify a defining problem in their circulation area but also to pinpoint solutions. The final story and sidebar also focused on solutions, most notably Connecticut’s second-in-the nation Right to Counsel law to provide low-income tenants with lawyers and level the playing field.

The students demonstrated their grasp of the issues in an accompanying Day podcast in which they reflected on their experiences and proposed solutions. The writing and reporting contributions from The Day were minimal. Each student was assigned to write different sections of the story, which was put together under Stanton's supervision.

The team discussed various leads and the organizational structure during in-class meetings that functioned as news meetings and editing sessions. The Day’s court reporter Greg Smith accompanied them to some court hearings and sat in on some of the interviews that the students led. He wound up using some of that material in separate stories that were part of The Day’s housing project outside of the evictions package. The Day’s photographer took the photos and the newspaper’s graphics editor produced the graphics, based on data provided and analyzed by the students.

Read "A Day in Eviction Court"

In May 2023, 'A Day in Eviction Court' earned 5th place in the national Investigative Reporting competition of the 2022-2023 Hearst Journalism Awards Program, considered the Pulitzer Prizes of college journalism. The team of UConn student journalists split a $1,000 scholarship award. The department’s was awarded a matching grant.

UConn Journalism students surround Jose Diaz, a local landlord they interviewed. The students from left are Faith Greenberg, Wyatt Cote, Hudson Kamphausen and Meredith Veilleux.

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