Unaffordable rents and a lack of legal protections for tenants are creating a national "eviction epidemic," according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. The NLCHP is a legal organization that advocates for legislation and programs to support people experiencing homelessness. The group recently released a report reviewing research on evictions. They link evictions to growing numbers of people sleeping in shelters and outside and call for more legal protections for renters.
Writing that evictions have reached "crisis levels," the report's authors point out that local or national data on evictions can be hard to come by. But pulling from the data sources that are available shows millions of people have experienced eviction, particularly nonwhite women. According to the report, a study from the rental website Apartment List showed that 3.7 million American renters have experienced eviction in their lifetimes. A Chicago study found 72 percent of those appearing in court for evictions were black and 62 percent were women. Another study in Philadelphia found that 70 percent were nonwhite women. Renters of color pay more for housing, are shown fewer rental units, and are quoted higher prices, according to the report.
The NLCHP uses data from several cities to argue that eviction is a leading cause of homelessness. In New York City, eviction was the second most common reason families entered homeless shelters. (Domestic violence was the first.) Eviction can also have less direct impacts, like job loss, that contribute to eventual homelessness. Here in Seattle, the link appears less severe, though the data is limited. In a 2016 city survey of 1,050 people experiencing homelessness, only 3.3 percent of people said eviction was the reason they were homeless. The rate was higher among families (9 percent) and 20 percent listed housing affordability issues as the primary event that led to their homelessness.
To protect renters, the NLCHP recommends several policy changes Washington has already put on the books, including prohibiting discrimination based on source of income, preventing landlords from banning renters with criminal records, and limiting whether evictions show up on future tenant screening reports. (If you're evicted in Washington, you can ask the court for an order of limited dissemination, which keeps the eviction off a future screening report. Court documents about your case will remain public.) The group also recommends just cause eviction laws, which limit the reasons a landlord can evict a tenant. Seattle has a just cause eviction law, but Washington does not. This year, two Democrats in the state House introduced a bill to create a statewide just cause eviction law, but it didn't get a hearing.
The NLCHP recommends rent stabilization laws, which are currently illegal under Washington State law, and a guaranteed right to a lawyer in housing cases. New York City last year became the first jurisdiction to give poor tenants a right to counsel. A report from New York Independent Budget Office found that giving low income tenants free legal representation could save $143 million a year in homeless shelter costs.