How Eviction Affects Neighborhoods
Eviction is a result of poverty, but it can also cause it. It significantly affects a family’s mental and physical health, employment, and future housing stability and financial well-being. Housing instability is often seen as an isolated incident that only harms the affected family, but we are beginning to understand its far-reaching effects on the broader community—including crime, neighborhood quality, and local relationships.
Research suggests reducing the risk of eviction can help mediate the destabilizing effects on neighborhoods, so how can local policymakers better protect renters and their communities?
The connection between eviction and neighborhoods
Evidence shows eviction can perpetuate cycles of crime, poverty, and disinvestment. Communities of color and low-income neighborhoods face the biggest risk of eviction, largely because they historically and intentionally have been excluded from amenity-rich neighborhoods, denied capital, and displaced by redevelopment projects. Specifically, majority-Black neighborhoods have significantly higher eviction rates than majority-white neighborhoods. Eviction affects families’ current and future prospects for residential stability. After an eviction, renters are more likely to relocate to less advantaged neighborhoods and lower quality housing (PDF) and are more likely to move again, continuing the cycle of instability.
Communities with high eviction rates, and thus the neighborhoods where households are more likely to be evicted, are clustered and may be most likely to feel its community-wide effects. Studies of such neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Ohio, and Boston have found that residents are often exposed to more crime compared with other neighborhoods, including violent crime and theft. One reason may be that frequent turnover because of eviction diminishes social networks (or social cohesion) that connect community members. This makes it harder for communities to manage local spaces and implement social controls, which can lead to an increase in crime. Weaker social ties can also make addressing crime and other neighborhood concerns more challenging because it makes community engagement less of a priority and increases skepticism of the government and political institutions.
The role of owner and operator practices
Housing instability is often discussed in the context of a tenant’s decisions, but a growing body of work is examining how the actions of landlords and property managers can destabilize renters and communities at large.
A recent study of Milwaukee found that properties owned by landlords who engage in extractive management practices, such as frequent eviction filings and property disinvestment, had more instances of burglary, robbery, and other types of crime. Researchers argue that these practices increase opportunities for crime and undermine neighborhood cohesion. They also posit that extractive management goes beyond bad landlord behavior and is an inevitable consequence of competitive housing markets caused by affordable housing shortages. Renters with low incomes and renters of color have few other housing options and are forced to live in neighborhoods with higher instances of crime and poorly managed properties.
Renters in properties with corporate owners and operators may face additional risk, as studies have found corporate owners may be more likely to evict tenants and engage in serial evictions. Some communities are facing additional risks related to institutional investor interest and disinvestment in neighborhoods of color. A recent study of Richmond, Virginia, found that tax delinquency of company-owned rental properties was the most significant predictor of violent crimes in the city’s neighborhoods, even when considering income levels or population density. When corporate owners fall behind on property taxes, local governments auction off the units. These transactions don’t come with the same tenant protections as more traditional sales, and tenants may be more easily uprooted. This means neighborhoods with a high proportion of corporate owners may see more tenant displacement and weakened social cohesion.
Evidence also suggests real estate companies often purchase auctioned properties and purposefully target low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, which perpetuates the cycle of disinvestment, discrimination, and displacement.
How to protect housing stability and neighborhoods
Local government leaders have options to better protect renters and that ultimately benefit their entire communities.
- Support “just cause” legislation.
Despite all we know about displacement’s negative effects, in many states, a renter can be evicted for any reason at the end of a lease. This has fueled recent community organizing around “just cause” or “good cause” eviction legislation, which limits the grounds upon which an eviction may be filed or lease may not be renewed. The exact specifics vary by locality, but generally they restrict reasoning to substantial lease violations, such as failure to pay rent.
This type of legislation could protect renters who live in government-auction properties, but local officials can also consider explicitly passing protections for those transactions, similar to the ones for more traditional property sales.
- Fund tenant-landlord mediation programs.
Eviction may be so rampant, especially for owners with multiple properties, because there are few other avenues to resolve landlord-tenant conflicts. Property owners report that they turn to eviction because they often feel they have no other recourse to recoup lost rent (PDF). Mediation programs run by local governments and court systems can give landlords and tenants the opportunity to explore options outside of eviction filings and have been shown to reduce eviction in up to 87 percent of cases. Required mediation can also slow the eviction process and may make it a less attractive option for serial evictors.
- Promote community ownership over corporate ownership.
We are just beginning to understand the full impact of institutional investors, but researchers and advocates have already begun to propose policy interventions that could better impact disenfranchised communities. Philadelphia’s East Liberty Development Inc purchases tax-delinquent and run-down corporate-owned properties to renovate and provide market-rate housing. Between 2008, when they first started, and 2013, violent crimes dropped by 49 percent.
Tenant Opportunity to Purchase (TOPA) requires requires sellers to let tenants buy a unit before listing it . In some localities, tenants can also transfer these rights to nonprofits or affordable housing developers. TOPA protections have existed in Washington, DC, for more than 40 years, and this policy has helped preserve over 3,500 units of affordable housing between 2002 and 2013 (PDF) and approximately 30 percent of annual multi-unit sales go through the TOPA process.
Eviction is pervasive and can have far-reaching effects. Protecting housing stability can be an important step toward advancing the well-being of families, neighborhoods, and communities at large.