Research Examines Measurement of Eviction Rates in the American Housing Survey

An article in Cityscape, Estimating the Prevalence of Eviction in the United States: New Data from the 2017 American Housing Survey,” examines key findings from the 2017 American Housing Survey (AHS) regarding forced displacement, how these results differ from other sources, and why the AHS might underestimate formal evictions. While AHS estimates 5.5 informal evictions for every one formal eviction, the authors identify reasons to believe that formal eviction prevalence may be even higher.

The paper was authored by researchers from Eviction Lab, who compare responses to the forced displacement questions in the 2017 American Housing Survey with a national database of eviction court records complied by Eviction Lab. They also draw on data from New York City’s Poverty Tracker, a local survey begun in 2012 that tracks reasons why households made recent moves.

Questions were added to the American Housing Survey in 20217 asking households why they had moved. Among those who had moved in the past 2 years, 6.2% were forced to move, 13.6% moved in response to negative housing and neighborhood conditions (e.g., increased rent), 72.8% reported a voluntary move, and 7.4% did not provide a reason. Among forced moves, 72.3% were the result of informal evictions—landlords using various means to force tenants to move without relying on a legal authority. Formal evictions accounted for 13.1% of forced moves. This ratio of 5.5 informal evictions for every formal eviction is significantly higher than previous research, which suggests there are 2 informal evictions for every formal eviction. The formal eviction rate suggested by the AHS (0.8% of household moves in the last two years) is also lower than the estimate produced from Eviction Lab’s national database of eviction court records (2.3% of all renter households in 2016).

The authors suggest several reasons why the AHS may underestimate the prevalence of formal evictions. First, the AHS measurement differs in kind from the Eviction Lab’s estimate. Households who were formally evicted but worked out a plan to stay anyway would not be asked the displacement questions in the AHS. Households who were evicted and then moved again would not report their eviction in the AHS. Changes in household composition because of an eviction (e.g., a family member moving into the household) would not register as a forced displacement. Since the AHS is a survey of housing units, households who become homeless following an eviction would not be surveyed. Finally, the ratio of informal to formal evictions may be affected by the underrepresentation of the lowest-income renters in national surveys, who may have fewer resources with which to undertake a move before they are brought to court (which means they experience a formal eviction instead of an informal one). As a result, the authors recommend caution when estimating the rate of informal evictions or the ratio of informal to formal evictions from the AHS.

Read the full paper at: