First National Evictions Database Sheds New Light on Affordable Housing Crisis

Across the United States, an estimated 3.7 million renters have faced eviction from their homes. In many of these cases, eviction is the result of missed rent payments. In some cases, landlords evict tenants because of property damage or other violations of lease agreements, while others are able to remove tenants from their properties through “no fault” evictions in which there has been no wrongdoing on the part of the tenant.

In addition, rents have gotten higher while incomes have remained stagnant, leading to higher rates of eviction, particularly for low-income individuals and other disadvantaged groups. A 2017 study of renters found that black households were more than twice as likely as white households to face eviction, even after taking educational attainment into account. Households with children were also twice as likely as adult households to face eviction. Evictions wreak havoc on these households, disrupting work and school, causing financial, mental, and physical stress, and making families more susceptible to future housing instability. All of this underscores the acute lack of affordable housing available for the millions who need it, contributing to continued cycles of poverty.

The image above is a snapshot of the EvictionLab database.

Despite the importance of eviction rates and larger trends they may signify, variation in how local court systems manage and publicize eviction records has made it difficult to collect and analyze eviction data in a systematic way. This month, the Eviction Lab at Princeton University took a big step toward filling this gap with the release of the first national database of eviction records. The database includes eviction rates at different levels of geography from 2000 to 2016, allowing researchers to analyze local data down to the census block level and understand trends over time. The database is incomplete due to limited data availability in different parts of the country. In California, for example, recent legislation mandates that eviction records are sealed for 60 days in order to protect tenants from being blacklisted by landlords when applying for housing. In addition, this database only represents evictions that occurred through legal procedures, not informal evictions that cannot be captured in the data.

Despite these limitations, the database and online interactive tool have received a lot of attention from policy makers and researchers in recent weeks, shining a spotlight on data that provide another lens through which to understand and tackle the affordable housing crisis. In addition, the most recent iteration of the American Housing Survey incorporated methodology developed by Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted and the director of the Eviction Lab.

Evictions in New York City

The chart above shows eviction rates in Bronx census tracts where more than 40% of the population lives in poverty (high poverty) and where less than 10% of the population lives in poverty (low poverty). The chart also shows eviction rates in Bronx census tracts where more than 50% of the population is Hispanic and where more than 50% of the population is white. Data sources: EvictionLab and American Community Survey 5-year estimates 2012-2016.

As of April 2018, the Eviction Lab was only able to obtain 2016 court records for three of the five boroughs of New York City (the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island), but within those boroughs are notable disparities. Our analysis of this data found that the eviction rate is almost five times higher in the Bronx (6.2%) compared to Brooklyn (1.3%). In the Bronx, people living in census tracts where more than 40% of the population lives in poverty are more than twice as likely to face eviction than those living in census tracts with low poverty levels (less than 10%). The disparities are even greater when looking at the majority race or ethnicity of Bronx census tracts: renters in tracts that are majority Hispanic are more than three times as likely as renters in majority white tracts to be evicted.

Recent policy changes in New York City aim to stem the rise of eviction rates and better protect tenants from losing their homes. One challenge many tenants face is the lack of legal representation in housing court, which can prevent them from raising defenses against illegal evictions and keeping evictions off their records. In 2016, the Office of Civil Justice released its first annual report, showing that the percentage of tenants in housing court who have legal representation for eviction proceedings increased from 1% to 27% since 2013. This increase is due in part to the $100 million in annual funding for civil legal services provided by the City. Furthermore, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently signed legislation that will guarantee legal representation for all low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court. This initiative aims to serve 400,000 people over the next five years. As this law and others are implemented in cities around the country, more robust data will be essential for tracking progress and ensuring that services and protections reach those who need them most.