COVID-19 could lead to worst eviction crisis in history, study warns

COVID-19 could lead to worst eviction crisis in history, study warns

The United States may be facing the most severe housing crisis in its history as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, an analysis by the Aspen Institute finds.

Released before President Donald Trump signed an executive order over the weekend that calls for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to "consider" whether an eviction ban is needed, the most recent analysis of weekly U.S. census data suggests that, without action, between 28.9 million and 39.9 million people could be at risk of eviction by year-end. Aggregating existing research on the impact of COVID-related job loss on tenants' ability to pay their rent, the study found that if current rates of unemployment persist, between 29 percent and 43 percent of the nearly 43.7 million renter households nationwide could be at risk of eviction.

According to 2018 data, 20.8 million renter households (47.5 percent) in the United States were already cost-burdened (defined as spending more than 30 percent of their pre-tax income on rent) pre-pandemic, while 10.9 million (25 percent) spent more than half of their income on rent, including a majority of those below the poverty line. The Eviction Lab at Princeton University estimates that between 2000 and 2016, sixty-one million eviction cases were filed, or an average of 3.6 million annually.

The study also found that people of color are disproportionately rent-burdened and at risk of eviction, with Black and Latinx individuals and families comprising roughly 80 percent of those facing eviction pre-pandemic. Based on a Census Bureau survey three months into the public health emergency, African-American (42 percent) and Latinx (49 percent) renters were about twice as likely as white renters (22 percent) to have "slight" or "no confidence" in their ability to make the next month's rent or to report being unable to pay the last month's rent (26 percent and 25 percent vs. 13 percent). According to a report co-authored by City Life/Vida Urbana and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 78 percent of eviction filings in Boston during the first month of Massachusetts' state of emergency were in communities of color.

According to the report's authors, the pandemic has greatly increased the risk of foreclosure and bankruptcy, long-term harm to renter families and individuals, disruptions in the affordable housing market, and the destabilization of communities across the U.S. Policy interventions needed to avoid the worst-case scenario include a nationwide moratorium on evictions, at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance, and an expansion of the civil right to counsel in eviction cases.