The Eviction Lab: A New Resource in the Fight for Housing Justice

By Equal Voice Action

Photo: The Eviction Lab at Princeton University

In 2008, while working alongside low-income tenants and their landlords in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Princeton professor and researcher Matthew Desmond realized what many poor and low-income families already know: that eviction is not just a condition but a contributing cause of poverty.

“We’re in the middle of a housing crisis, and that means more and more people are giving more and more of their income to rent and utilities,” Desmond said in a recent interview with NPR.

According to the American Housing Survey, the majority of poor renting families spend 50 percent or more of their monthly income on housing, and one in four of those families spends more than 70 percent on rent and utilities. As we know, these slim margins leave poor and low-income families constantly exposed to not only economic hardship, but the looming threat of eviction at any financial turn, from unforeseen expenses to job loss and family emergencies.

What we didn’t know was the full extent of this crisis. Drawing on his research, Desmond estimates that 2.3 million evictions were filed in the U.S. in 2016 — a rate of four every minute.

Desmond’s research first started to make waves when he published his book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017. He then began meeting with organizations and policy makers to discuss solutions for America’s eviction problem. But the complete lack of data about eviction made it difficult to show the gravity of the problem. While eviction rattles the lives of individuals, families and communities daily, scant attention has been paid to the causes, outcomes, and scope of housing insecurity. With very little concrete data to back up his arguments, Desmond quickly realized in order to help create change he would need to gather eviction data from across the country to better understand and spotlight the conditions and consequences of housing loss.

Thus, the Eviction Lab was born, providing a valuable new resource for those fighting for housing justice nationwide.”Our hope [at Eviction Lab] is that we can take this problem that’s been in the dark and bring it into the light,” Desmond said.

Based at Princeton University, the Eviction Lab is a research organization dedicated to studying the prevalence, causes and consequences of eviction in the United States. Its new database represents the largest accumulation of U.S. court records related to eviction ever compiled, and while its sample only represents formal court-ordered evictions, the numbers are alarming. As of April 2018, the Eviction Lab has collected a set of 82,935,981 court records related to eviction cases in the United States and the District of Columbia between 2000 and 2016.

The Eviction Lab provides county level data for court-ordered evictions across the country. Photo: Screenshot of the Eviction Lab mapping tool. 

Visitors to the site can search for eviction data by state and county, access associated demographic data for those areas, and compare eviction rates and rankings. The site will soon release data naming the “top evictors”—a critical resource for organizations and communities working to combat the eviction crisis.

“The lack of affordable housing sits at the root of a host of social problems, from poverty and homelessness to educational disparities and health care,” the Eviction Lab website states. “That means understanding the eviction crisis is critical to effectively addressing these problems and reducing inequality.”

While most evictions stem from inability or failure to pay rent, many renters across the country are subject to “no fault” evictions, which can occur even if they never miss a payment and meet all the stipulations of their lease agreement.

“Sometimes [landlords] just change the locks or take their door off, as I witnessed one time in Milwaukee,” Desmond told NPR. “[Out of court] evictions aren’t even captured in these numbers that we have—which means the estimates that we have are stunning, but they’re also too low.”

Evictions are, of course, devastating for many families, causing them to lose their homes—and sometimes their possessions, leave their communities, transfer schools, and, in the worst cases, struggle with prolonged or permanent homelessness. Job loss and mental and physical health problems are also common consequences of eviction, studies have shown.

Moreover, evictions are typically adjudicated in civil court, where renters have no right to an attorney. Court-ordered evictions can prevent families from relocating to decent housing, as many landlords screen backgrounds for past evictions, and can also hinder families from moving into public housing. In these and other ways, eviction so often serves to further entrap low-income people and their families in the cycle of poverty. Early data from the Eviction Lab shows that low-income women, particularly women of color, have a higher risk of eviction.

Desmond spoke about the potential impact of the Eviction Lab data as individuals and organizations work to combat the eviction problem in America: “What this eviction data allow us to do is ask questions that we couldn’t ask before, look at patterns that were invisible to us before and really ask city planners, students, parents, everyone to come around the table and really try to look at this problem in their community and get to the bottom of it.”

To explore the Eviction Lab for data from your community, visit evictionlab.org.


The Eviction Lab is a team of researchers, students, and website architects who believe that a stable, affordable home is central to human flourishing and economic mobility. Drawing on tens of millions of records, the Eviction Lab at Princeton University has published the first ever dataset of evictions in America, going back to 2000.

Matthew Desmond is the author of “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” and the founder of The Eviction Lab based at Princeton University, where he teaches. The lab’s website launched in April 2018, offering access to its national database of evictions throughout America.

For additional information, including a searchable nationwide database for community resources for advancing housing justice, visit the related site, Just Shelter, at justshelter.org.

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