Above Photo: John Sommers II/Reuters
A new Apartment List report aims to more accurately estimate the scope of America’s eviction problem.
A new report from Apartment List aims to more accurately estimate the scope of the population at risk of eviction, building on data from its 8 million users, plus answers to 41,000 surveys on rental security. The scope, they found, is wide, and growing: One in five renters recently struggled or were unable to pay their rent, and 3.7 million renters nationwide have experienced an eviction in their lifetime as a renter.
In addition to determining the frequency (and threats) of evictions,Apartment List tried to quantify the similarly insidious incidences of informal evictions, and the unhealthy nature of monthly rental insecurity. The survey asks if, in at least one of the past three months, a given renter has been unable to pay their rent in full. The one in five that answered “yes” haven’t necessarily been forced to leave their apartments under court of law, but they do face serious consequences. “If your rent is putting an undue burden on your family, where you’re having difficulty making that bill every month, that’s going to lead you to cut back on other essentials like food, health care, and transportation,” says report author Chris Salviati.
Who’s at risk?
As with many legal issues that impact low-income renters, the problem discriminates by race: Black households are most likely to be at risk for eviction—in the past year, 11.9 percent of black households had faced an eviction threat, as compared to 5.4 percent of white ones.
While the published report does not include a gender breakdown, Salviati says women are slightly disadvantaged: 4.9 percent of women and 4.5 percent of men had been threatened with evictions in the past year.
But if you start controlling for educational attainment, it’s still black households that are most at risk. “Even looking at households that have a four-year degree, we found that six percent of black households faced eviction versus just three percent of white households—that rate is double,” says Salviati. “And that same breakdown holds at all levels of educational attainment.”
Asian households are least likely to face eviction, a measure that also holds when controlling for education.
Perhaps the starkest finding is that it’s families with children who are the most vulnerable of all—almost twice as many households with kids reported a difficulty in paying rent within the past three months compared to those without. Single parents with children face the highest rates of eviction, at 30.1 percent, but married couples with children aren’t far behind, at 27.2 percent.
Where evictions happen
One might think that cities with the highest housing costs—coastal cities like San Francisco, San Jose, Boston, and New York City—are evicting the most residents. But the worst offenders are places with low median incomes and high rates of foreclosure, like Memphis, Phoenix, and Atlanta. Many of the cities whose residents experience the highest rates of eviction and rental insecurity are concentrated in the South and Midwest.
The survey found a negative correlation between median incomes and eviction rates, implying that affordable housing costs matter less than job opportunities or general city-level prosperity. “When you’re talking about a market like San Francisco, the rental market is super-competitive and vacancy rates are low, so landlords have a lot more discretion in terms of choosing who they’re going to rent an apartment to,” says Salviati. “Someone who’s going to have more difficulty paying their rent will probably find it difficult to break into that market in the first place.”
Cities with strong tenant protection laws—like local policies of rent control and “just cause” eviction ordinances that only allow landlords to evict for predefined, and reasonable, grounds—also had lower eviction rates. These protections exist in many California cities and in Seattle, where rates hovered around 1 to 2 percent. Beyond implementing these kinds of laws, Salviati says, cities can fight eviction by passing inclusionary zoning regulations, and increasing the housing supply by stimulating the production of affordable units.
Every additional eviction begins another dangerous cycle: experiencing just one puts residents at risk of experiencing another. Apartment List found that those who were evicted from their previous residence are more than twice as likely to have missed a rent payment in the last three months, compared to those who were not previously evicted. As Evicted’s Desmond wrote, “Eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty.”