Stable housing is increasingly out of reach for many Americans, as both rentals and homes to own grow more expensive and options dwindle. Evictions may be one of the most visible manifestations.
Now, a new study shows that not all evictions are created equal. Scholars at Georgia State University, in conjunction with a ProPublica journalist, examined “serial” eviction filings, or those done repeatedly by a landlord against a tenant. By comparing serial evictions to ordinary ones, the researchers found patterns of landlord behavior and intentions, some of which are reminiscent of the worst of the housing crisis a decade ago.
As a reminder, nearly half of Americans are “rent-burdened,” which means that they spend more than 30% of their income on rent. Homelessness is on the rise. Nationally, as many as one in seven children may have experienced eviction in the last decade. And, just as the foreclosure crisis disproportionately hit African-Americans, so does the eviction epidemic. Black women in Milwaukee, for example, were evicted at a rate three times their share of the population, and black renters in metro Seattle were evicted four times as frequently as whites there, according to earlier research.
The Georgia State authors compiled evidence that eviction proceedings can be predatory: “Filings can be the beginning of a forced removal process, but they are also frequently a tool used to enforce the collection of rent and fees,” they note.
The authors cite several earlier local studies that demonstrate the phenomenon. Researchers in Baltimore, Cleveland and Dallas “found that some landlords viewed the additional revenue from late fees, enforced by the threat of an eviction filing, as a supplemental source of funding in addition to the regular rent roll.”