The eviction crisis was not borne out of this pandemic. The lack of affordable housing can be faulted to a whole host of issues, including a steady decline in federal investment in low-income housing, restrictive zoning codes, and wage growth stagnation. These processes have been ongoing for decades and have led to a large gap in the demand and supply for housing in America, felt most acutely by lower-income level renters who are often Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, in no state, metropolitan area, or county in the U.S. can a worker earning the federal or prevailing state of local minimum wage afford a modest two-bedroom rental home at fair market rent by working a standard 40-hour work week without spending more than 30% of their income. Wages have not only lagged behind inflation and the cost of living, but middle-wage jobs are increasingly lost to external factors such as automation and globalization, leading to a concentration of low-wage jobs with limited pay and benefits.
According to the most recent pre-pandemic data, most renters below the poverty line were already spending half or more of their income on housing costs—1 in 4 of those families were spending more than 70% of their income just on rent and utilities. Many of these families are likely to have less accumulated wealth due to the lasting impacts of redlining, residential housing segregation, and the division of the labor market, meaning they are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck. When families are living on such tight financial means, even a small cost burden can lead to a nonpayment of rent and eventually, eviction.
With up to 40 million renters at risk of eviction after December 31 this year, an eviction cliff, a product of this pandemic, has made it critical for cities to understand the depth of their local eviction crisis.
Cities understanding their local eviction crisis
Prior to COVID, cities were taking steps to understand their local eviction crisis.
In Grand Rapids, MI, the city set out in their Greater Housing Strategies to create an eviction prevention program pilot. Launched in January 2018, under a three-year pilot program grant, the program has been tracking eviction trends. In 2019, Grand Rapids evictions were tracking to be substantially higher than 2018—one factor for the uptick was due to employment instability.
In 2018, the Princeton University’s Eviction Lab designated the city of Richmond, VA with the second highest eviction rate in the country. Soon after the Virginia Poverty Law Center created the Campaign to Reduce to Evictions (CARES) to identify additional data to drive policy and advocacy to reduce displacement caused by evictions. And in 2019, the city of Richmond launched a voluntary Eviction Diversion Program and created an Eviction Task Force.
To understand their local eviction crisis, the City of Pittsburgh, PA worked with The Pittsburgh Foundation and the Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services. With assistance from the Pittsburgh Foundation, Allegheny County’s Department of Human Services completed an extensive 8 year data collection from 2012 to 2019 to construct a snapshot of Allegheny County’s local eviction crisis and legal eviction process using data collected from their magisterial district courts where all county evictions are originally filed. The CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University then used their data visualization tool, Earthtime, to create data narratives about frequent movers, demographic changes, and fair housing implications. CREATE Lab is now working with the Eviction Lab to provide current data on evictions while the moratoria have been in place.
What steps should cities take?
As cities continue to grapple with the eviction cliff caused by the on-going coronavirus crisis, in addition to revenue shortfalls, cities will need to continue taking steps to understand the magnitude of the eviction crisis in their locality. This will involve cities taking a step back, even in the midst of the pandemic, to collect and analyze the quantitative and qualitative data associated with evictions, COVID-related and pre-COVID related.
Our recommendations for cities to begin this process or restart this process include:
- Set realistic goals to analyze eviction data. Before collecting and analyzing eviction data, it is important to develop goals to guide data analysis. Goals should assist with determining what data should be collected to conduct the analysis and what steps need to be taken once the data has been collected and analyzed.
- Partner with community stakeholders to collect and analyze eviction-related data. To understand the extent of evictions, it is important for cities to work with a coalition of community stakeholders, such as the court, lawyers, the local sheriff department, community-based organizations such as a legal aid society, city and county departments, local public housing authority, landlord and tenant associations, and anchor institutions such as local colleges and universities. Through this coalition, cities can begin to have an accurate picture of, using qualitative and quantitative data, of the impact of evictions in their city. Cities will also have an understanding of how community stakeholders can assist in the development of a city’s anti-eviction strategy that speaks to the need of their community.
- Disaggregate the eviction data. Evictions are disproportionately affecting households that are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Black and Latinx people are more likely to experience housing instability due to occupational segregation. It is important when analyzing the data that the data is disaggregated to have a full picture of who is being impacted by evictions, who is being disproportionately impacted, and why.
- Understand the limitation of your city’s eviction data. Eviction data has limitations. The data is not often uniformly collected, it may not be in a centralized location, it may not have demographic details, and/or it may not be digitalized. Understanding these limitations can assist with developing a strategic, standardized collection process to collect and monitor future eviction data. From 2018 – 2019, the city of Boston’s Office of Housing Stability worked in partnership with HomeStart, Inc., to collect and analyze Boston’s eviction data. During the data collection process, Boston discovered housing court case level data for specific years could not be retrieved electronically and had to utilize legal interns to input case information into spreadsheets.
- Understand what the data is telling you and not telling you. Consider what information stands out and what information is missing to ensure that the impact of evictions is accurately being depicted. Information such as demographics and informal evictions such as tenants moving out because they cannot afford a rental increase, they are told their lease will not be renewed or intimidation may not be reflected in the data.
- Match findings with current interventions. As cities begin to develop or bolster their eviction prevention programs, it is important for cities to system map what resources and funding are available for evictions. Through system mapping, cities can implement race-specific, anti-displacement evictions strategies, determine what programs are effective and ineffective, what programs should be bolstered, how outreach can be enhanced and targeted and build a system with community stakeholders that meets the community’s needs.
- Develop and monitor core metrics of your city’s anti-eviction strategy. Use the information analyzed to create metrics that will monitor the city’s anti-eviction strategy. Monitoring of the metrics will determine if the anti-eviction strategy is successful, guide cities to make strategic policy decisions and adjust if needed to produce better outcome for residents. At the conclusion of Philadelphia’s Mayor Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response, the taskforce encouraged the Housing Security Work Group managed by the city’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity to develop an eviction data report to establish baselines and monitor the crisis to reveal barriers and to identify opportunities to bolster existing resources, provide information to tenants and landlords, and connect individuals to critical services.
By taking these steps, cities will begin to have an up to date picture of their local eviction crisis and will be able to co-develop with residents and community stakeholders an anti-eviction strategy that works for their community.
About the Authors
Kyle Funk is the Program Specialist for Housing & Community Development, at the National League of Cities.
Tina Lee is a Senior Coordinator within NLC’s Center for City Solutions. She supports the Center for City Solutions and Senior Executive and Director. Additionally, her areas of research include urban innovation, mobility, and housing.
Lauren Lowery is the program director for housing & community development at the National League of Cities.