Every year, about 2.3 million American renter households receive eviction papers at some point. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we might see that many evictions in one month.
Global advisory firm Stout, with input from the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), used census survey results and income data to develop a new eviction estimation tool that estimates how many households could be at risk of eviction as moratoriums end, courts reopen, and rent relief efforts fall short. More than 16 million renter households are at risk of eviction, according to the tool, and more than 11 million households could be served with eviction papers over the next four months.
Since April, weekly census surveys have been asking Americans if they paid their last month’s rent on time and how confident they are that they’ll be able to pay next month, along with questions meant to assess employment status, food security, and other impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Stout eviction estimation tool combines that with data about how rent-burdened Americans are by income level.
With a heavier rent burden, there’s a greater chance that someone’s answer of having “moderate confidence” or “no confidence” that they can pay rent will actually translate to an eviction or more rent instability, says John Pollock , coordinator of NCCRC, which works to advance the right to counsel for basic human needs such as housing. In most of the U.S., there’s no right to counsel for housing court; on average, 90% of landlords are represented in court, but only 10% or less of tenants are, which Pollock says skews how likely tenants are to win eviction cases.
The tool, which will be updated with census survey data each week, is aimed at policy makers. Users can look at state-by-state or national data on estimated evictions, along with the amount of rent relief needed to possibly stabilize these households—currently, the national estimated rent shortfall totals $22 billion.
You can also filter survey results by ethnicity, which reveals a stark disparity. “This isn’t a small difference between renter confidence for white tenants versus Black and Latinx tenants. It’s massive,” Pollock says. In the July 22 survey, about 47% of both Black and Latinx tenants said they have little to no confidence they can pay next month’s rent; for white tenants, it was about 20%. “You already have a disease that is decimating Black communities . . . and so when you see these numbers on top of that and you put that in line with what we know historically about how Black tenants have been disproportionately in housing court, it’s another aspect of the urgency that we want Congress to see,” he says.
Experts have been predicting an “avalanche” of evictions for weeks, and this tool echoes that coming catastrophe (the Aspen Institute predicted that 20 million renters were at risk of eviction; this tool looks at renter households only, since the census is based on households, and it does not try to estimate how many people are in each household). Though this tool doesn’t give exact month-to-month eviction estimates, Pollock says the analysts roughly predict more than 2 million evictions each in August and September. “In other words, they’re saying that in one month, we may see more evictions than we [usually] see in an entire year,” he says.
As for why it makes sense for landlords to evict en masse, Pollock says, frankly, that it doesn’t. He recalls an article that noted how we need a federal eviction moratorium to “save landlords from themselves.” If landlords evict all their tenants, they will have a hard time finding replacements because of how unstable the rental market is. Empty buildings harm property values and mean less tax revenue. “It hurts landlords in the long run, too,” he says. “They shouldn’t do this, but landlords don’t always do what is even in their own economic interests, with the longest foresight.”
Some landlords might have the foresight to not evict their tenants, which is why an exact number of evictions is so hard to predict (though in some places, evictions are already happening). Congress is also working on another stimulus package, though it’s not clear how much it prioritizes housing. Even with that aid, NCCRC is calling for three things to address this crisis: a federal moratorium to stop all evictions immediately, rent relief so the problem doesn’t persist when evictions start up again, and funding for tenant representation, to help those for which eviction proceedings have already begun or who might not qualify for relief.