The Eviction Problem in Today’s U.S. Housing Market

In partnership with the American Information Research Services, Inc., Redfin has come up with an estimate stating that 2.7 million renters in the United States faced eviction in 2015, which suggests the existence of a serious problem with the potential to cause widespread consequences. After all, eviction can cause a serious disruption in someone’s normal routine, thus making a bad situation that much worse by making it more challenging for them to continue earning their income while cutting off their access to potential sources of assistance. Furthermore, it should be noted that the consequences of eviction are not limited to renters but can spread throughout their communities, as shown by how higher rates of eviction tend to result in higher rates of crime and other social problems.

With that said, it is important to note that this is no more than an estimate because there is no such thing as a national database of evictions, though the U.S. Census Bureau has announced its plans to set up something along those lines in 2017. As a result, the 2.7 million number was extrapolated using figures collected for local regions, which may or may not reflect the situation in the whole of the United States in an accurate manner. However, it should be noted that such figures often under-count the number of evictions because they can take on both formal and informal forms, meaning that the official cases with clear paper trails are no more than a small percentage of all of the cases that exist out there. In fact, one study based on the city of Milwaukee suggests that this percentage could be as low as 24 percent, which has some rather troubling implications for the situation in the current U.S. housing market.

What Are the Causes of the Eviction Problem in the United States?

The cause of the eviction problem in the United States is clear. In brief, people are supposed to spend no more than 30 percent of their income on their housing, but more than 20 million renters in the United States spent at least that percentage in 2015. For comparison, this makes more than half of all the renters in the United States cost-burdened renters, meaning that they are much more vulnerable to economic shocks because of the increased extent to which such incidents can affect their ability to maintain their housing.

In significant part, this trend can be attributed to how the cost of housing has been rising throughout the United States without a corresponding rise in the income of housing consumers. For example, the costs of homes for sale rose by 48.6 percent between 2011 and 2016, while the costs of homes for rent rose by 19.4 percent between the same period of time. In contrast, the median household income in the United States was $50,054 in 2011 and $56,516 in 2015, meaning that it has failed to match the same rate of increase barring the improbable scenario of a massive increase in 2016 that has somehow managed to fail to make the news. Summed up, these numbers make it clear that the eviction problem in the U.S. housing market is not vanishing on its own but instead becoming worse and worse as time passes, suggesting that something needs to be done about it sooner rather than later to prevent its potential consequences from coming to pass.

What Can Be Done About the Eviction Problem?

Dealing with the problem will be much easier said than done because it is a multi-faceted problem in need of a multi-faceted solution. For example, U.S. cities on the two coasts are seeing increases in their housing costs because there is insufficient housing for all of the people who want to live in them, thus making existing housing more and more unaffordable for their current residents. As a result, it should be possible to alleviate the worst of the problem in those regions by increasing the amount of housing that is available within them, whether by setting aside more space for housing development or by encouraging real estate developers to engage in housing development with the use of tailored incentives.

In contrast, the Rust Belt has more than enough housing for people who want to live there, but suffers from the fact that its residents have had stagnant wages for some time now. Theoretically, an economic resurgence could be what it needs to alleviate its eviction problem, but under the circumstances, the expansion of government benefits is much likelier to produce the desired results while remaining implementable so long as there is sufficient political will to push such a program. Other examples of potential solutions range from informing more people about potential sources of assistance to providing increased legal counsel to those who are facing formal eviction, which may or may not prove useful in all of the housing markets that can be found throughout the United States.

On a final note, it should be mentioned that the eviction problem seems to hit some demographics much harder than others, meaning that an examination of their needs and circumstances could prove valuable insight into potential methods for combating the problem. For example, the same cycle of poverty that is responsible for sending a disproportionate number of black men to the prison system seems to be responsible for evicting a disproportionate number of black women as well, which has the same effect of perpetuating the problem over the course of generations. Furthermore, immigrants to the United States seem to be affected more as well, which is unfortunate but unsurprising because of how they have fewer resources to overcome such challenges.

Final Thoughts

It remains to be seen whether the eviction problem in the U.S. housing market will be either solved sometime in the near future or permitted to continue until it becomes bad enough that something has to be done about it. Whatever the case, it is clear that it will take a concerted effort from not just governments but also businesses, nonprofit organizations, and other stakeholders to overcome because it is so entrenched in the current state of things, meaning that less serious efforts might be able to provide some short-term relief but no more than that.

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