July rent is due for millions of American renters, but many are still unable to pay as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. As states lift eviction moratoria, many fear a wave of evictions is soon to come.
The Eviction Lab at Princeton University has been leading the effort to document the growing crisis of eviction in America. The Eviction Lab has now also turned its attention to tracking evictions and looking at state eviction protections during the pandemic.
The Eviction Lab’s data show that government policies and assistance during the first wave of the pandemic have kept eviction rates low. Many low-income tenants have been able to pay their rent because of the federal unemployment bonus or the stimulus checks provided by the CARES Act.
Evictions are already being filed in many places that never suspended the eviction process. In places that have adopted eviction moratoria, there have been cases of landlords harassing tenants to get them out. By turning off electricity or water service, these landlords hope tenants will leave without having to file a formal eviction.
And even when there is a moratorium on eviction, when the order is lifted tenants will still owe any back rent they did not pay. Even before the pandemic, most low-income renters had trouble paying the rent. According to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, 75% of renters earning less than $15,000 a year paid more than half their income in rent, and 43% of those earning from $15,000 to $30,000 had this severe cost burden.
Tenants in federally backed housing are protected from eviction until July 31, but they only make up about a quarter of all renters. The federal boost to unemployment benefits will also expire at the end of July. State eviction moratoria have started lifting around the country, with many more set to expire by the end of July. In the next few months, millions of low-income renters will be squeezed by loss of income, loss of eviction protections, and a large bill for back-due rent.
The Eviction Lab has been tracking evictions nationwide, and has mapped where evictions have been filed. They have data as recent as 2016. According to Matthew Desmond, chief investigator for the Eviction Lab, the U.S. already faces an eviction crisis. More than 61 million eviction cases were filed between 2000 and 2016. In 2016 alone, 3.7 million eviction cases were filed, or about 7 cases each minute. About half of all eviction cases end with tenants losing their homes.
Speaking on a webinar hosted on June 22 by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), Desmond noted that eviction is not only a big city problem. He pointed out that 1-in-9 renters were evicted in Muskegon, Michigan in 2016, a small city with a population of about 38,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In rural Houlton, Wisconsin, 1-in-8 renters were evicted in 2016.
The Eviction Lab’s national map of evictions in 2016 does show large clusters of evictions in big metro areas, but also concentrations in rural areas around the country, especially in the south. The map also shows that evictions are heavily concentrated in areas with high concentrations of minorities, especially African-Americans.
Building on this work, the Eviction Lab set out to create a tool for tracking evictions right now. This would allow people to see if government policies to help renters during the pandemic are having an impact. Because cities and counties around the country keep their eviction records differently, there has been a long lag in collecting data for the national mapping project. This is why the most recent information available has been for 2016.
The Eviction Lab worked with 12 cities to collect eviction data on a weekly basis. These cities represent most regions of the country. The Eviction Lab would like to add more cities for tracking, but participating cities need to have their eviction records available electronically. Many jurisdictions though, especially in rural areas, do not keep electronic records for eviction cases.
Visitors to the site can click on any of the cities and get a summary of eviction trends. The summary includes information about eviction moratoria and shows increases and decreases in filings over the last week and month. These are the 12 cities covered in the Eviction Tracking System:
- Austin, TX
- Boston, MA
- Cincinnati, OH
- Cleveland, OH
- Houston, TX
- Jacksonville, FL
- Kansas City, MO
- Milwaukee, WI
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Richmond, VA
- St. Louis, MO
Desmond shared data that showed monthly eviction filings dropped in places where there was an eviction moratorium. The number of eviction filings for March, April and May this year were well below the average numbers for those months. Filings were almost nonexistent in April and May. However, filings rose above the monthly average in June as eviction suspensions started lifting in many cities.
The Eviction Lab has also developed a housing policy scorecard to rate how well every state is protecting renters from eviction. They rank every state based on several factors. Does the state have an eviction moratorium? Does the state provide resources and protections in the eviction filing process, the court process, and the enforcement process? You can click on each state and see a summary or full report on what they do and do not provide to help renters facing eviction.
Eviction Lab data show how eviction moratoria and rental assistance have blunted what could have been a housing disaster. But a coronavirus eviction crisis is on our doorstep. A national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, plus emergency rental assistance will be needed to keep millions of low-income renters in their homes. These measures will be even more critical as the coronavirus continues to flare up and we face the threat of a second wave in the Fall.