Eviction Lab Breaks New Ground for Eviction Data
by Mick O'Leary
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City was one the most highly praised nonfiction books of 2016, winning a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and many other awards. Author Matthew Desmond, a sociologist, spent several years living in a distressed part of Milwaukee, studying evictions as experienced both by poor tenants and their landlords. The book describes how an eviction is not only a troubling individual event, but is also a factor in—and partial cause of—poverty, homelessness, and joblessness, with ongoing harmful effects for the evictees and for the community as well.
The Eviction Lab gathers data on evictions and their socioeconomic correlates for
U.S. states, counties, cities, census tracts, and census block groups. These data
are well-presented in clear, interactive maps; charts; and rankings and in excellent
downloadable reports. Eviction Lab is the first database to capture comprehensive
data on evictions and their consequences.
Filling a Big Data Gap
Desmond noted a dearth of comprehensive, curated data related to eviction in the U.S. He has corrected this with the Eviction Lab (evictionlab.org), a massive database of eviction data that covers evictions at several geographic levels and correlates them with relevant socioeconomic indicators. It was launched in 2017 and now has a staff of 21 researchers and digital technicians. It is housed at Princeton University and is supported by that school and several foundations.
Eviction Lab has conducted a massive effort to gather formal eviction records from 48 states and the District of Columbia (North and South Dakota do not maintain eviction records). Additional eviction-related data were obtained from dozens of states. The database has more than 80 million records, which can be tracked from the national level all the way down to individual census tracts and block groups, from 2000 to 2016.
As mentioned previously, there are important gaps, at different geographic levels, because the data have not been gathered. Nevertheless, Eviction Lab still has compiled the largest collection of data on U.S. evictions in existence. The site’s principal section is the interactive Eviction Map for investigating evictions and their socioeconomic correlates. The map allows comparisons among the following three components:
- Eviction Data—There are both eviction rates and eviction filing rates; there are many more of the latter because a filing doesn’t necessarily lead to an actual eviction. Eviction filings are, nevertheless, important to understanding the workings of the overall eviction system.
- Socioeconomic Data—There are 15 socioeconomic indicators, representing demographics, economics, ethnicity, and rental status.
- Geographical Data—The site can display at state, county, city, census tract, and census block group levels.
When a value from one of these categories is selected, Eviction Lab represents it by drawing a customized map. Annual data from 2000 to 2016 can be chosen using a date slider. Selecting a specific geographic level generates a concise and valuable summary for that region, which includes evictions per day, eviction rate, annual evictions, eviction filing rate, and annual eviction filings, as well as the socioeconomic values. Up to three regions can be selected for side-by-side comparison. Data for the entire 2000–2016 period are shown in a separate line graph. Individual addresses can be searched, generating a block group-level map.
The Eviction Map is highly interactive, with skillful use of color, zooming, and panning to generate appealing and easily understood displays. You can download reports that are offered in Excel, a concise and well-designed PowerPoint presentation, and a short PDF document that has both summary data and related analysis. Researchers can obtain the entire dataset from Eviction Lab.
Eviction Lab’s other large database, Eviction Rankings, ranks 2016 eviction data for several geographic levels. There are separate rankings for each of two important eviction metrics: eviction rates and number of evictions. For each metric, rankings are compiled for three geographic levels: Large Cities, Mid-Size Cities, and Small Cities and Rural Areas. The top 100 locations for each area are displayed at national and state levels. The rest of the locations in the ranking are not sequentially displayed, but are searchable for more than 30,000 areas, at city, town, village, and unincorporated area levels. Search results display the location and its rank, and locations that are ranked above and below the original location result can be scrolled.
Understanding Eviction Lab and Evictions
Eviction Lab has an excellent help section for understanding the Eviction Map, the Eviction Rankings, and the individual eviction metrics. There is a good FAQ on the site’s methodology and its complex efforts to deal with frustrating data gaps and local variations in eviction practices. There is a concise Eviction FAQ that explains how the actual eviction process works and the social harms that result from it. The site itself is attractive and well-organized.
Eviction Lab has a companion site, Just Shelter (justshelter.org), that supports eviction advocacy. It has a directory of more than 600 national, state, and local organizations that provide support, counseling, and advocacy for those who are enmeshed in the complex and often harsh eviction system.
Eviction Patterns and Effects
Eviction Lab data show that, on the national level, the eviction rate in 2016 was slightly lower than in 2000, and that it peaked in 2006. These national numbers, however, are insufficient to understand the overall eviction situation, because there are great variations among locations. Some states had big increases in eviction rates over Eviction Lab’s 2000–2016 time span, while others had significant decreases. These variations repeat themselves at city, census tract, and census block group levels. Locations separated by a few miles can have great differences in their eviction rates.
The picture becomes even more complex when socioeconomic and rental market metrics are figured in. For example, in eviction studies, “rent burden”—the percent of a renter’s income that goes to rent—is highly important. Rent burdens have been increasing over Eviction Lab’s 2000–2016 time span. And evictions are just one troubling outcome for those with high rent burdens; funds that go to high rents are necessarily unavailable for healthcare, transportation, education, child care, etc.
For many people, their only knowledge of evictions comes when they pass a pile of possessions carelessly strewn about a sidewalk. Eviction Lab’s Eviction FAQ explains that the eviction event can launch a cascade of additional difficulties. Children may have to change schools. The court record that accompanies an eviction may interfere with the evictees’ ability to obtain new housing. The long and stressful eviction process is associated with job loss and mental health problems. Eviction Lab demonstrates that evictions are a key part of a distressing nexus of social, economic, and community dilemmas in every part of the country.