Study Shows Disasters Increase Evictions

A recent article in Housing Policy Debate, “A Perfect Storm? Disasters and Evictions,” is one of the first studies to examine the relationship between disasters and evictions. The study combines a quantitative analysis of national data on disasters and evictions with a qualitative case study of the recovery following Hurricane Michael in Bay County, Florida. The research finds that disasters increase evictions and explores factors underlying this relationship.

The authors utilized a mixed-methods study design, with the quantitative component analyzing county-level data on disasters, evictions, FEMA assistance, and social and economic indicators to examine the causal relationship between disasters and evictions. A qualitative case study of the recovery after Hurricane Michael in Bay County provided further insight into the nature of the challenges faced by both landlords and tenants after disasters.  

The quantitative findings indicate that severe disasters were associated with a significant increase in evictions in the year of a disaster and the following year. The association was weaker but still present in the second year after a disaster. Among the county-level social and economic indicators factored into the study’s statistical model, higher median rents and higher vacancy rates were associated with an increase in evictions following a severe disaster. The authors suggest higher rents might be associated with increased evictions after a severe disaster, because tenants might have a limited capacity to absorb disaster-related financial shocks in counties where the rent is already high. Why higher vacancy rates were associated with increased evictions was less clear. The authors suggest higher vacancy rates may be correlated with other local economic factors.

The amount of FEMA rental assistance delivered per renter household was associated with a lower frequency of evictions two years after a severe disaster. The authors surmise FEMA assistance could help tenants retain a longer-term financial buffer by helping them avoid taking on high levels of debt to meet their emergency housing needs in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Labor and housing markets might begin to recover during this same two-year period.

Qualitative findings from the case study point to a range of potential factors contributing to displacement and eviction after disasters. Extensive damage to the rental housing stock and slow recovery times led to displacement, exacerbating a pre-existing lack of affordable housing available for lower-income renters. Small and large landlords appeared to have different motivations for eviction. Limited resources and a lack of clear property titles prevented some smaller landlords from accessing recovery funds to make repairs, while a lack of formal leases made it easier to evict tenants. Some larger landlords took advantage of the disaster to evict renters, rehab damaged units, and charge higher rents in step with the tightening rental market.

The authors identified potential policy responses to disrupt the relationship between disasters and eviction. These policy responses include eviction moratoria, changes to court procedures during disasters, tenant right to counsel laws, expungement of eviction records, and improved communication about landlord and tenant rights in the wake of a disaster.

Read the article at: