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Excerpted From: Maya Brennan, A Framework for Effective and Strategic Eviction Prevention, 41 Mitchell Hamline Law Journal of Public Policy and Practice 37 (2020) (71 Footnotes) (Full Document)


 MayaBrennanEviction prevention can reduce health, education, employment, and economic risks that affect residents of every county in the United States and disproportionately harm Black and Latinx mothers and children. Evictions, however, have long sat on the sidelines of housing policy. Decades of federal, state, and local housing policy have expressed goals related to public health, housing quality, affordability, de-segregation, wealth-building, regional economic growth, and individual or family supports. As adopted and funded, however, the policy landscape has generated neither a housing supply that meets demand across income levels nor sufficient subsidies to resolve worst case housing needs. As of 2015, just 16 percent of the nation's 27.9 million low-income renter households received federal housing assistance, despite qualifying for it. Fewer than 6 million unassisted low-income renter households obtained affordable and decent-quality housing in the private market. Housing policy advocacy from leading national organizations, such as the National Low Income Housing Coalition and National Housing Conference, have historically emphasized policies that preserve or add affordability, but omitted approaches that would address the immediate displacement risk of a mismatch between housing needs and housing availability for low-income renters. When the housing system does not include the supply or subsidy that enables affordability, households will miss payments and increase their risk of eviction.

Evictions and displacement are finally prominent policy topics around the nation. A combination of community organizing, public awareness efforts, research, and the 2016 book Evicted have made evictions impossible to ignore. Yet the meaning of the word eviction remains only loosely defined, and this can result in unclear policy menus. Policies that offer tools to reduce eviction by correcting housing market failures would not resolve a household's risk of an imminent eviction, and vice versa. Both types of policy agendas have a role in displacement prevention, though they address different aspects of the same broad problem.

This paper aims to develop an eviction prevention framework that can encompass both housing market failures and household crises. I begin by exploring the varied meanings of the word “eviction” and clarify the distinctions between eviction types. I then demonstrate the urgency of effective eviction prevention--first through information on evictions' prevalence in the US and then through a review of the cost of eviction to individuals and communities. Finally, I explore the root causes of eviction and present an eviction prevention framework that can support strategic policy development and enable more systematic analysis of different policy options.

[. . .]

The US is experiencing an eviction crisis that affects every county, surpasses the magnitude of the foreclosure crisis, and imposes disproportionate harm to Black and Latinx households. A greater understanding of evictions, the different meanings of the term, and the lasting and widespread harm can complement the rising awareness of an eviction crisis and enable effective and strategic policy development. Intervention as early as possible in the eviction process--whether early in a household's crisis or through system reforms related to root causes--offers the greatest value to households and communities, since even an eviction filing imposes short-term and long-term harm. Early intervention, however, is just one part of the eviction prevention menu. Policymakers should look at a combination of policies that intervene at all stages of crisis, address root causes, and support households and communities in recovering post-eviction.

Maya Brennan is a Senior Policy Program Manager at the Urban Institute.

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