Dr. Eva Rosen: Evictions
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The federal eviction moratorium, implemented by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to slow the spread of COVID-19, was set to expire on July 31.
On August 5, 2021, SciLine interviewed: Dr. Eva Rosen, an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, where she studies poverty and housing policy. See the footage and transcript from the interview below, or select ‘Contents’ on the left to skip to specific questions.
Interview with SciLine
EVA ROSEN: So my name’s Eva Rosen. I’m an assistant professor at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.
What is the status of evictions in the United States right now?
EVA ROSEN: Researchers estimate that in 2020, if we combine federal, state as well as local eviction moratoria, that these probably led to over 1.5 million fewer filings than in the previous year. And if we look at the CDC moratorium specifically, it probably led to around a 50% decrease in filings. We also know that anywhere between 10 and 40 million people have been at risk of being evicted at various times during the pandemic. Unfortunately though, we don’t keep national data on eviction, which of course makes tracking all of this really tricky. But what we do have is the American Household Pulse Survey. And from this, we can learn about how many people report having trouble paying their rent each week and how many people think that they might be evicted in the weeks to come. And last week, this was around 11 million.
Has the eviction moratorium been effective?
EVA ROSEN: So the ban that expired on the 31 was meant to protect anyone who experienced a COVID-related loss of income and who was therefore at risk of homelessness due to eviction. It likely protected a lot of people, which is why it’s so important that the Biden administration has found a way to institute a new ban. That said, we also know that there was wide variation in the ban’s efficacy. So not everyone who could have benefited from it did benefit from it. And the reason for this is that the CDC moratorium had to be invoked, which means that defendants have to fill out an affidavit and file it with the court in order to benefit from it.
This also means that eviction filings, which are the first step that the landlord takes in the eviction process, were able to continue going forward even during the moratorium, at least in places where filings were not also banned. And this is important because filings in and of themselves are really very harmful to tenants. They act sort of like a mark on their residential histories. That makes it hard for landlords in the future to want to rent to them. And when the moratorium is lifted, these of course can move forward to full eviction. And if we look at places like Florida, for example, this can happen very, very quickly once the ban is lifted.
In addition to formal evictions, are there other ways that renters can lose their homes?
EVA ROSEN: In addition, we need to keep in mind that even when evictions are not legally allowed to be executed formally, landlords can rely on lots of different kinds of informal tactics and things that they can do outside of the official court process in order to evict a tenant. And this might be something as simple as offering cash for keys. And this is exactly what it sounds like. It’s literally offering someone money to leave the house before that formal eviction process is initiated. Landlords also can push tenants out by just failing to maintain the home or do repairs. And we sometimes see really even more extreme things like illegal lockouts, where a landlord might remove the front door on a home to make it uninhabitable and sort of force the person to move out even short of a formal legal eviction.
Can you explain the new moratorium announced this week and share your reaction to it?
EVA ROSEN: Yeah. So the moratorium announced this week, I think, is really good news for renters. It’s similar to the previous one in a lot of ways. This time it’s a 60-day targeted ban, meaning that renters specifically in areas with high COVID transmission would be eligible under some of the same circumstances as before. That being said, because COVID transmission is on the rise almost everywhere in the country, it looks like somewhere around 80% of counties in the country would actually be eligible under this ban.
What are the impacts of eviction on people who are evicted?
EVA ROSEN: So evictions have a lot of different kinds of effects. They can destabilize employment. They can cause tremendous psychological distress. We even see them associated with an increased likelihood of suicide. They increase things like hospital visits and emergency room use. They can even lower access to credit. And certainly, most obviously, they lead to homelessness.
We also know that children especially suffer as a result of eviction. So eviction can have an impact on their emotional, their social and physical well-being, their health, food insecurity and especially their performance in school. Generally speaking, eviction is also associated with lower housing quality in the future. So once you’re evicted, you’re more likely to end up in a home that is of lower quality in perhaps a poorer or higher crime neighborhood.
And really importantly for our purposes, new research shows that during the pandemic, eviction isn’t (ph) associated with a higher spread of COVID-19. So research shows that the expired eviction moratoria across the country contributed to the spread of infection and even death. And one paper estimates about 10,000 excess deaths just in the 44 states that were studied. And, of course, this is because families that are evicted are often forced into cramped or doubled-up living situations. And this makes them at greater risk for contracting and spreading the disease.
What is the difference between an eviction filing and an executed eviction, and why does it matter?
EVA ROSEN: An eviction filing is the first official step in the legal process that starts the eviction suit whereas an executed eviction is the eviction itself. It’s the moment where the sheriff shows up at the family’s door to remove the inhabitants by force if necessary and actually change the locks. And this is important when we get into different kinds of data and try to track eviction over time and figure out the pandemic’s effect on the eviction. We do need to differentiate between filings and the eviction itself. So the CDC eviction moratoria have banned – have executed evictions but have not banned eviction filings. And this is important because it means that in places that don’t also have eviction filing bans, once that moratorium is lifted, those filings can move very quickly to an actually executed eviction.
It’s also important because, as I mentioned before, eviction filings in and of themselves are quite damaging to tenants. Not only do they cause a ton of psychological stress and trauma, as they indicate the fact that the eviction process is beginning, but also because they really do leave a permanent mark on a tenant’s record. And that can make it harder for them to find housing in the future. If you talk to landlords when they screen tenants, one of the first things they look for is either a history of eviction or a history of an eviction filing, and they tend to count those two things about the same. So even a filing in and of itself can have really negative effects on renters.
How do landlords use the eviction process to collect rent from tenants?
EVA ROSEN: So landlords file for eviction far more frequently than they actually evict. For example, if you look at Washington, D.C., only about 5% of eviction filings end in a legal eviction. And we know that landlords – especially larger, more corporate landlords with many, many properties – they do sort of a blanket eviction filing as soon as rent is due on any units that owe rent. And in many places, it’s quite cheap to file for eviction. And landlords feel that this helps them kind of put pressure on tenants to find the money themselves or go and apply for emergency rental assistance. And they think that that legal filing will sort of push the tenant to do this more quickly. And this may seem reasonable, but it’s really, at the end of the day, a misuse of the court, right? It’s overburdening the court system with cases that were never going to end in an eviction. The tenant was just late, and they were going to pay. And, of course, they did ultimately pay. And we can see that in the data.
As I mentioned before, these filings are also really bad for tenants because they leave a mark on their residential history. And this matters during the pandemic because we’re seeing a much higher volume of folks who might be late on rent in any given month. And, again, this is very damaging to their ability to find housing in the future.
Are there particular groups of people who are likelier to face eviction?
EVA ROSEN: We know that poor people, people of color, folks in majority Black neighborhoods specifically, also women and children are all groups that are more likely to experience eviction than others. And, of course, we can think about longstanding inequalities in education, employment, housing most obviously but also health care – right? – often stemming from structural racism. All these inequalities have only been exacerbated by the current crisis. And this preexisting structural racism, decades of racist housing policy – they mean that people of color are more likely to face housing instability. So, for example, if we look at the most recent pulse survey data, it shows that 25% of all Black renters are behind on their rent compared to just 10% of white renters. And if we look at the 6.5 million households that are behind on rent, the majority of them are people of color.
What more could or should be done to help renters stay in their homes?
EVA ROSEN: I think it’s important to keep in mind, especially during a pandemic but even during normal times, that the vast, vast majority of eviction filings are related to money. So people frequently – renters frequently – and especially during a pandemic, they just don’t have the money to pay. For all these reasons, the fact that some are of left out of the eviction ban, that it is slated to end in 60 days – I think that what that tells me is that the most important part now is getting emergency rental assistance money out to tenants and landlords so that people can stay in their homes. We have a huge amount of money – almost $50 billion – that’s been allocated for this purpose. But it’s not yet in the hands of landlords and tenants, and so it makes sense to, again, stop evictions while we get this money out.
I would also say that moving forward, I think we need to think about long-term rental assistance. The housing affordability crisis predated the pandemic, and it will last well beyond the pandemic. And it’s definitely time to start a conversation about how to provide long-term rental assistance to the many millions of renters who just cannot afford the rent.
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