The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an emergency order on Sept. 4 barring certain evictions through 2020. This just kicks the issue a few months down the road because Congress has offered no new funding to help the unemployed keep up with rent. But in the window between those two events, we got a glimpse of the looming eviction crisis: In places that lacked local protections, and where we have data, evictions spiked — a sign of the social catastrophe to come if the CDC and local moratoriums end and Congress declines to step in.
The federal government doesn’t collect data on evictions, and neither do most states, hampering study of the problem. But the Eviction Lab, at Princeton University, pulls data from public court records systems in jurisdictions where that’s possible. We currently monitor monthly eviction filings in 17 large and medium cities — the biggest include Houston, Phoenix and Boston — and the database includes both 2020 information and data from recent years.
You’d expect eviction filings to spike roughly 30 days after the Cares Act’s ban on eviction filings ended, along with unemployment-insurance subsidies, in late July. That’s what we found — at least in cities that lacked their own eviction moratoriums. Some cities in our sample saw particularly high increases. After Aug. 25, filings skyrocketed in Kansas City, Mo.; Richmond; and Fort Worth, Tex., for example. Fort Worth landlords filed more than twice as many cases in the first week in September — 455 — as compared to the average for that week in other recent years. In Richmond, landlords filed just over four times as many evictions in the first week of September — 287 — compared with recent years.
But these spikes aren’t at all even across the cities we follow. In the 12 cities we track that had no state or local moratoriums, landlords filed 5,200 eviction cases in the 10 days between the end of the Cares Act protections and the beginning of the CDC eviction moratorium — roughly 8 percent higher than the comparable figure from recent years, on average. (We receive Phoenix data monthly, so we don’t have its September filings count yet.) Some cities, then, had below-average filings counts, while others had far more cases than normal. But by comparison, in the four cities we’re tracking that still have local or state protections, landlords filed a mere 45 eviction cases, or about one a day in each state. In a normal year, we’d expect to see about 10 cases per day in each of these four cities.
It’s a moment of extraordinary tension in housing policy in the United States. On the one hand, 1 in 4 U.S. households has experienced job loss or a decline in income — with distress especially concentrated among Black and Latino families (who are also much less likely than White families to own their homes). More than a quarter of renters told the U.S. Census Bureau in August that they didn’t think they could make rent in September.
But eviction filings have been largely held in check — except for that 10-day window between federal eviction protections and the CDC moratorium. Between March 15 and Sept. 20, 50,629 new eviction cases have been filed in the 17 cities we’re tracking. That’s too many people facing eviction, but it’s well below the comparable averages in recent years, over the same span. Given the limits of our sample, we can’t say whether that data reflects national trends, but it appears that policy supports have largely kept families housed.
First, the eviction moratoriums made a difference. The Cares Act temporarily blocked evictions for certain properties, and 43 states had at least some additional protections for tenants at some point.
The CDC’s new order stops landlords — through the end of 2020 — from evicting tenants who certify they can’t pay rent after exhausting government assistance. After the increase we’ve documented, we saw steep decreases in eviction filings after the CDC ban went into effect. The order allows too much room for local discretion, however. You’re still better off in Massachusetts, a state with its own strong moratorium, than in Texas, which doesn’t have any statewide protections: In Houston, landlords filed 432 eviction cases in the first week of the CDC order; in Boston, landlords filed no cases.
Notably, the CDC order extends no rent relief, and the money included in the Cares Act didn’t last long. Houston, for example, ran through its $15 million of Cares-funded rental assistance in less than 90 minutes. That means that unless Congress passes a rent forgiveness plan, a comprehensive rental assistance package or another supportive measure, many evictions are simply being delayed; the bill for missed payments will come due. The Cares Act’s extra $600 per week in unemployment-insurance benefits also kept people in their homes. (The Trump administration’s “lost wages assistance program” does not come close to taking up the slack.)
America had an eviction crisis long before the pandemic. In 2016, for example, landlords and property managers filed 3.7 million eviction cases against renters — seven filings every minute — not including the countless people evicted informally or illegally. And data from the Eviction Lab shows that landlords file against Black renters at nearly double the rate of White renters. This summer, amid a global health crisis, that threat was lifted for some tenants, in some places, thanks to state and federal intervention. A patchwork of protections continues to shield some families from the devastating effects of eviction — which can include homelessness, job loss, depression, suicide and exclusion from high-quality housing in the future. But now families are running out of savings, support and time.