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Evictions are increasing dramatically since the lifting of pandemic-era protections

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Evictions are soaring as pandemic-era protections intended to keep tenants in their homes have been lifted. Princeton University's Eviction Lab finds average eviction filings in some cities have jumped 50% or more compared to pre-pandemic rates. Joining us now is Danny Grubbs-Donovan, a research specialist at the lab. Danny, which cities have been hardest hit?

DANNY GRUBBS-DONOVAN: Yeah, we saw some of the biggest increases from 2021 to 2022 in Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Houston. And that's all against pre-pandemic averages. So it's compared to a sort of pre-pandemic normal amount of filings. And in about half of the cities that we track, we're now seeing filing levels above pre-pandemic averages.

MARTÍNEZ: Is the end of pandemic-era protections and those rental aid programs, is that solely to blame for the increases? Or are there maybe other factors involved?

GRUBBS-DONOVAN: I think that's to blame for the broad trend. Like I said, we saw an increase in filings in every city that we tracked between 2021 and 2022. And that can largely be laid at the feet of the expiration of local and federal eviction moratoria. We estimate that about a million and a half eviction filings were prevented in 2021 by the federal moratorium. So you see a lot of those missing filings coming back in in 2022. There's also a variety of specific factors in each city that are contributing to filing levels like affordable housing supply, rent prices and the local policy environment with regards to renters. But broadly, we look at the moratorium and the end of emergency rental assistance funding.

MARTÍNEZ: Is there any way to project if this is going to get worse? Or are eviction rates maybe going to get back to normal at some point?

GRUBBS-DONOVAN: I don't feel comfortable projecting, really. But we know that there are things that we can do to keep people in their homes. There are a lot of cities that haven't seen a large increase or have kept their eviction filing levels well below pre-pandemic averages. One is Philadelphia, where they have a really robust eviction diversion program. They mandate mediation between landlords and tenants before eviction cases even get to housing court. They have something like a 90% success rate at settling outside of court. So there are things that we can do to get eviction levels low, but it's just sort of local policy initiatives at the city level.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, maybe how I asked that question is part of the problem. I said eviction rates getting back to normal, not that evictions should be normal, right?

GRUBBS-DONOVAN: Yes. Yeah. There's a big concept of, we don't want to return to business as usual. We were in an affordable housing crisis before the pandemic. Evictions were harmful before the pandemic. And we want to keep the pro-renter protections that were put in place, the historic renter protections that were put in place during the pandemic in place and not return to business as usual.

MARTÍNEZ: Are you seeing any programs at all, Danny, that are effectively driving down evictions?

GRUBBS-DONOVAN: Yeah. One that I point to is the eviction diversion program in Philadelphia. Beyond that, I think tenant organizing outside of government has also been very effective. One thing that I've sort of been following is KC Tenants in Kansas City. In just one month in 2021, they prevented or blocked about a thousand evictions from going through court. And that's not keeping filings low, but it is keeping people in their homes. So, yeah, tenant organizing, I would say, is very effective as well.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's Danny Grubbs-Donovan, a research specialist at Princeton University's Eviction Lab. Danny, thanks.

GRUBBS-DONOVAN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORESMA'S "CLOUDS (INSIGHT VOL 3)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.