Research shows millions protected from eviction in 2020, but back rent grows

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New research from Princeton’s Eviction Lab shows that protections enacted during the coronavirus pandemic have prevented at least 1.6 million eviction filings nationwide. Although eviction filings are rising going into 2021, eviction rates are still only about half what they were before the pandemic.

Over the last decade, the U.S. has seen a growing eviction crisis as wages continue to stagnate and rents rise. The coronavirus pandemic has made this even worse, with millions of low-income renters out of work. Without emergency rental assistance, these evictions will just get pushed back into 2021.

Princeton’s Eviction Lab tracks evictions in five states and 27 cities. Because there is no national source for eviction information, the researchers also use their own statistical analysis to make national estimates of eviction trends. Eviction records are dealt with differently from state to state, and many of these records are not kept electronically. This makes the Eviction Lab’s work the most comprehensive available.

Average weekly evictions in January and February, 2020 were at or above levels from prior years, but eviction filings plunged in late March. This is around the time that President Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency and Congress passed the CARES Act. Eviction filings remained low through the summer, but spiked in late August and early September. Since September, there has been a steady increase in eviction filings.

“Weekly Eviction Filings in Eviction Tracking System Sites Relative to Historical Average” Image by

The CARES Act passed in March, 2020, and it contained a partial eviction moratorium. The moratorium protected residents of federally backed housing, which includes Public Housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) properties. In turn, the CARES Act protected about a quarter of America’s renters from eviction.

Eviction protections from The CARES Act expired at the end of July of last year, with landlords able to evict tenants by late August. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not issue an order for a national moratorium on evictions until early September. Filings soared in the two weeks without any national protections against evictions.

In early October, the CDC posted guidance on the eviction moratorium that strongly favored landlords. It allowed eviction filings to go ahead as long as tenants stayed in their homes until the moratorium ended. The pace of eviction filings accelerated through the end of the year. At the end of 2020, though, average weekly eviction filings were still less than half what they were in 2019.

The CDC’s eviction moratorium was originally set to expire on December 31, 2020. It was extended through the end of January in the coronavirus stimulus legislation passed at the end of December. President Biden extended it again through the end of March, 2021 with an executive order issued his first day in office. He has also proposed extending it until the end of September of this year as part of his American Rescue Plan.

The Eviction Lab also found that what renters owed at the time of eviction grew by a large amount as the pandemic wore on. They looked at eviction claim data from Cincinnati, Houston, New York, and Phoenix. From January to March of 2020, average claim amounts in these cities suggested that tenants facing eviction were about a month behind on rent. By November, the average claim amounts increased quite a lot, with the average tenant about 3 months behind on rent.

“Monthly median eviction claim amount as a ratio of median rent” Image by

Eviction moratoriums around the country helped keep low-income renters in their homes, but tenants were still responsible for rent and late fees. Landlords often file for eviction after the first month of missed or partial payments. Many landlords held off with eviction filings because of the eviction moratoriums in place. As state and local eviction protections were lifted later in the year, tenants facing eviction were more likely to owe months worth of back rent and late fees.

Before the pandemic, Black and female renters disproportionately faced eviction. The health and economic crises of 2020 did nothing to change that, with Black and female renters still a much larger share of those facing eviction than their share among renters. Black female renters are the group most likely to face eviction before and during the pandemic.

“Share of all renters and eviction filing defendants, pre-and during-pandemic, by race/ethnicity.” Image by

However, there was a narrowing of the gap between male and female renters during the pandemic. There was a small drop in the number of female renters evicted and a larger rise in the number of male renters evicted during the pandemic.

The Eviction Lab’s findings show the critical role played by eviction moratoriums. Millions of low-income renters have been able to stay safe in their homes during these difficult times. Because back rent is growing, though, low-income renters will face a mountain of debt when eviction protections eventually expire.

The current CDC moratorium expires on March 31, 2021. Congress will soon be considering President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which proposes $30 billion in emergency rent and utility assistance. It will also extend the CD’s eviction moratorium until the end of September. The longer it takes Congress to pass a new stimulus package with emergency rental assistance, the worse it will be for millions of low-income renters.

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