No “eviction tsunami” — but increasingly, trouble when the rent is due
Eight months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s federal eviction moratorium. At the time, affordable housing advocates and other experts warned of an approaching “tsunami” of evictions as landlords rushed to collect money that was owed and local courts and law enforcement entities processed backlogs of eviction filings.
Today there is some good news to report, with a large asterisk. Evictions did increase in the U.S. after the moratorium was lifted. But the eviction rate did not rise as quickly as anticipated, and, in fact, it remains significantly below pre-pandemic levels.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is some evidence of people being forced from their homes without eviction paperwork ever being filed – non-eviction evictions, if you will. And there is further evidence that low-income renters, particularly in Black and Latino neighborhoods, are among those most affected.
First let’s examine the good news – an “eviction tsunami” has not occurred.
“[Eviction filings] increased after the CDC moratorium ended, but they still aren’t anywhere back to normal,” Peter Hepburn, Princeton Eviction Lab statistician and quantitative analyst, told ABC News. “So, we’re still at 60 percent of the historical average.”
Hepburn says evictions have not risen as quickly as expected due to a number of factors – including additional federal and state aid to stave off evictions (often in the form of emergency rental assistance) and legal assistance programs that ramped up during the pandemic.
The latter might be described as unprecedented. Around the time that the eviction moratorium ended, Attorney General Merrick Garland called on lawyers and law students to help renters with low incomes with Emergency Rental Assistance applications, to volunteer with legal aid providers, and to assist courts with implementing eviction diversion programs.
The response to Garland’s call for help was huge.
According to a White House statement, 99 law schools in 35 states and Puerto Rico jumped in to help. “Over the past five months, over 2,100 law students dedicated over 81,000 hours to serve over 10,000 households,” the White House said.
Gene Sperling, Senior Adviser to President Biden and the person charged with implementing the American Rescue Plan, said the partnership with the legal community has been an “extraordinary national experiment” and reflects a “whole-of-government approach” that contributed to keep eviction filings significantly below historic averages.
Still: dig deeper into the numbers and one finds racial inequities that existed long before the pandemic and, if anything, were made worse by it, and by the resulting economic damage.
A Mother Jones analysis of census data and sheriff’s department lockout notices in five California counties from March 13, 2020 to October 2021 found that even as evictions proceeded at lower rates during the pandemic, they continued to disproportionately affect residents of majority-Latino and majority-minority neighborhoods.
The magazine found that in San Diego County, families living in majority-Latino neighborhoods faced a lockout rate of just more than four units for every 10,000 men, women, and children – 17.7 percent higher than that experienced by people in majority-White neighborhoods. And the pattern was repeated in other counties as well – in Contra Costa County east of San Francisco, people in Latino-majority neighborhoods experienced 46 percent higher lockout rates than those living in white neighborhoods..
And that study covered only official eviction proceedings. What about non-eviction evictions?
“Factoring in eviction threats and informal proceedings, the toll is unquestionably far greater,” the magazine wrote. “Matthew Desmond, a Princeton University sociologist and author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning book Evicted, determined that lockout notices in Milwaukee County, where he conducted research, represented just a quarter of all forced moves. Informal evictions were roughly twice as common as official ones, although harder to track.”
So what is coming down the road and what can we do about it?
For now, we know that rents are increasingly sharply. According to the rental platform Zumper, rents rose 26 percent in Henderson, Nevada between 2021 and 2022; in New York City, they increased 30 percent; in Miami, 39 percent. Nationwide, rent for a one-bedroom apartment between March 2021 and March 2022 rose an average of 12 percent; it was the eleventh time in the last year that one-bedroom rent averages hit an all-time high.
The causes behind these increases are manifold. Housing construction was moving slowly even before the pandemic – now it has further slowed due to labor shortages and supply-chain disruptions. First-time homebuyers have been discouraged by an overheated housing market – meaning they are not buying and are holding on to rental units that others could occupy. And, of course, there is an overwhelming shortage of available housing stock, in particular affordable housing stock. One estimate says the U.S. will need 4.6 million new apartments by 2030; another 10 million existing units need renovation.
It is clear that the U.S. needs more housing stock and particularly renters with low incomes need more assistance. Congress appropriated nearly $46 billion to help renters avoid evictions; $22 billion remains unspent, but that is of little solace to renters in, say, New York City, which has spent all of its share of the funds. And much of this money is targeted toward renters who lost money due to COVID-19 – it does not cover renters who are simply being priced out of the market.
Time magazine notes:
“There is certainly not enough funding to meet the colossal number of renters experiencing unexpected lease or moving costs, but even if some renters find a way to access the funds, it is a short-term fix to a long-term crisis.” the magazine wrote.
“We actually have to fix this problem in the long run,” Ann Olivia, Vice President for Housing Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told Time. “And we have to make people whole right now.”