- After the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium and most state-level protections, local governments have a key role to play in stemming the eviction crisis, according to a new report from the National League of Cities.
- Because they are closer to the renters and landlords, local governments can tailor eviction policies to the “unique needs of their community” that also address racial equity and lived experiences, the report finds. But crafting a strategy can require more data than many governments have.
- The report identifies a variety of strategies to prevent evictions, including strengthening just-cause policies, legal assistance, hotlines and financial assistance. However, the report also notes the importance of expunging court records of eviction proceedings and offering resources and support after evictions to make it easier for people to find affordable housing.
Amid fears of a homelessness and eviction crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government imposed a national moratorium on evictions for renters and distributed billions in rent relief in 2020 and 2021. The moratorium expired after the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down in August 2021; the last remaining state moratorium, in New Mexico, fully expires in March. At the same time, rising housing prices continue to exacerbate an affordable housing crunch and leave renters at risk.
That makes it more important for local governments to build on the protections that helped drive down eviction rates in the past two years, said Natasha Leonard, report co-author and NLC senior program specialist for housing and community development.
“Many cities have the basic infrastructure in place or have expanded what was in place. Now is the time to evaluate what the long-term plays are,” Leonard said. “What can you do at the local level to expand access to housing, and what are some of the policies and programs on a longer lead that can provide housing security in the long term?”
According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, which tracks data in six states and 31 cities, evictions have steadily risen since the federal moratorium expired but have only reached about 60% of historical average levels in late fall 2021. In total, the lab has recorded more than 700,000 evictions since March 2020. Eviction Lab Research Specialist Emily Lemmerman said trends have varied from city to city, which could partially reflect the effectiveness of some local interventions.
Report co-author Lauren Lowery, NLC director of housing and community development, said cities can be especially effective as convening bodies when it comes to eviction policies. City officials have connections not only in the housing and business community but also to courts, legal aid organizations, state partners and even federal agencies with a role to play in evictions, the report said. A 2021 New America study found that one-third of U.S. counties have no annual local eviction data available, however, which can create a risk that policies aren’t effectively targeted to communities of need.
Lowery added that eviction policy “is not just about an emergency that’s happening;” it relies on working before and during a dispute to alleviate housing issues. That work can include resources to educate renters and landlords about their legal rights and responsibilities and to make legal assistance available to both parties. According to a report from the New York City Bar Association, 77% fewer eviction warrants were issued when low-income tenants in New York had legal assistance with their eviction cases compared with the outcome when such tenants went without legal assistance. Offering mediation services can also reduce evictions, the NLC report notes.
Boulder, Colorado, established the Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Services Program last year, following a 2020 ballot measure that implemented a requirement that all people facing eviction be given representation. Program Coordinator Jason Allen said the program has been successful in consolidating other housing resources and acting as a connection among courts, help lines and business associations.
“At first, our goal was to fill in the gap where the federal assistance wasn’t helping,” Allen said. “We look for places where really fast intervention can be most helpful, where we can step in, in a week, and take some pressure off the system.”
Studies have shown that evictions disproportionately affect minority households. A 2020 study from the Eviction Lab found that Black and Latino households were more likely than white households to receive a notice of eviction and be evicted. That further reinforces the need for data-driven and community-focused solutions, said NLC’s Lowery, in order to “see a decrease in harm to the historically impacted communities.”
Boulder’s Allen said that eviction is just one part of the broader affordable housing problem, along with a national housing shortage, income inequality and outdated zoning codes. However, he said, the Boulder community’s interest in protecting renters through the ballot initiative and the success of the eviction prevention program show the importance of eviction interventions.
“This is an important piece of the overall affordable housing conversation that the city has talked about,” Allen said. “This is one of the tools to reduce housing instability and make our community more welcoming and more diverse.”