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Is a Wave of Evictions Coming?

Regional Matters
November 20, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted household financial stability across the country. The economy has shown broad improvement in recent months, but recovery has been slow for certain industries and regions. Younger workers, people of color, and lower-income households—many of whom are residential renters--were impacted significantly by the pandemic and may be struggling to keep up with household expenses like rental payments. Patchwork state and local policies have supplemented federal action to prevent evictions during the pandemic, but with some provisions expiring in December, there is concern that a wave of evictions and rental debt burdens may be on the horizon. A recent report prepared for the National Council of State Housing Agencies suggested that up to 21.1 million renters nationwide could face eviction in January if current protections are allowed to expire. This post examines how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting housing insecurity and the eviction risk for renters in the Fifth District.

COVID-19 Renter Protections

Commencing in the spring of 2020, Richmond Fed research staff conducted ongoing weekly outreach conversations with regional industry and community development stakeholders to assess the economic impact of a constricting economy as COVID-19 swept through the Fifth District. By April, several regional housing sector representatives expressed serious concerns about rising rental delinquencies. Absent significant government intervention, they predicted an eviction crisis would emerge by July. Ultimately, this initial intervention came in the form of federal and state moratoria on eviction proceedings and financial stimulus from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The CARES Act included a range of programmatic and financial supports, including economic impact payments and supplemental unemployment insurance (UI) payments. The act also included funding for housing support and a 120-day eviction ban that applied to a narrow set of renters. The eviction ban, which expired on July 24, required residential landlords with federally backed mortgages to give a 30-day notice to evict following the end of the ban. On Sept. 4, the CDC issued a federal order protecting renters who meet certain criteria from eviction due to failure to pay rent through Dec. 31. This eviction moratorium applies to a broader set of renters than the CARES Act provision and is designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by maintaining housing stability. Eviction could force families into homelessness or shared accommodations, increasing the risk of virus transmission. The CDC’s order, issued just as many states resumed their eviction proceedings dockets, created initial confusion as to its scope and application, compelling most state courts and some governors to provide subsequent clarifying directives to identify a process for tenants to access these protections.

During the pandemic, many states and localities have issued additional eviction bans and financial assistance programs to either add additional renter protections or to take effect after the end of federal policies. The District of Columbia offers the most comprehensive assistance and temporary security to beleaguered rental tenants by suspending all eviction proceedings during its current state of emergency order and requiring multifamily properties to offer payment plans for back rent. (See table below.) Maryland is unique among Fifth District states in that it permits eligible landlords to apply for rental assistance on behalf of tenants. On the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia is ranked at the bottom nationally due to providing no rental assistance measures other than compliance with the CDC’s eviction protections.

State Rental Assistance Policies in Fifth District – Most Expansive to Least
 State Eviction ProceedingsFinancial Assistance
District of ColumbiaSuspended during local emergency declarationRental support funds for eligible households. Landlords with five or more rental units per property must offer tenants a payment plan program for past due rent.
MarylandResumed, CDC protections applyRental support funds to local governments and eligible households and landlords.
VirginiaResumed, CDC protections applyRent and Mortgage Relief Program to assist households facing eviction due to COVID-19.
South CarolinaResumed, CDC protections applyOne-time payment of up to $1,500 for eligible households.
North CarolinaResumed, CDC protections applySix-month grace period for tenants to pay back any rent that accrued while an executive order was in effect.
West VirginiaResumed, CDC protections applyNo rental assistance policies currently in place

Source: Eviction Lab COVID-19 Policy Scorecard

The moratorium has paused the eviction process for many renters but has not prevented rent payments and late fees from accruing. With the eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of the year, many renters may face eviction or payment due on rental debt burdens accrued during the moratorium. Also ending in December are the CARES Act provisions that extended state unemployment benefits and expanded coverage to those not traditionally covered by unemployment, which may have allowed some renters to avoid missed payments. With the end of the federal supports approaching and many households not covered by state or local protections, renters in the Fifth District may confront housing insecurity and related financial impacts in early 2021.

Pre-Pandemic Housing Insecurity and Affordability for Renters in the Fifth District

Renters in the Fifth District faced housing affordability concerns and eviction risk prior to the pandemic. In the Eviction Lab’s 2016 calculations of state-level annual eviction rates, South Carolina had the highest eviction rate in the country at 8.8 percent. Virginia ranked second with a 5.1 percent eviction rate, and North Carolina ranked fifth with a rate of 4.6 percent. Eviction disproportionately affects people of color and low-income women. There is significant variation in eviction rates within states, and rural communities are not immune. Fifth District localities in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina rank among the highest evicting cities in the country (see Fifth District locations highlighted in the table below).

Top 10 Evicting Cities and Eviction Rates in the United States, 2016
RankLarge CitiesMid-Size CitiesSmall Cities and Rural Areas
1North Charleston, SC - 16.5%St. Andrews, SC - 20.7%Robin Glen-Indiantown MI - 40.7%
2Richmond, VA - 11.4%Petersburg, VA - 17.6%West Monroe, MI - 37.2%
3Hampton, VA - 10.5%Florence, SC - 16.7%Homestead Base, FL - 29.2%
4Newport News, VA - 10.2%Hopewell, VA - 15.7%East Gaffney, SC - 28.6%
5Jackson, MS - 8.8%Portsmouth, VA - 15.1%Wolf Lake, MI - 27.2%
6Norfolk, VA - 8.7%Redan, GA – 14.0%Promised Land, SC - 26.3%
7Greensboro, NC - 8.4%Horn Lake, MS - 11.9%Aetna Estates, CO – 26.0%
8Columbia, SC - 8.2%Union City, GA - 11.7%Falkland, NC - 25.7%
9Warren, MI - 8.1%East Point, GA - 11.3%Waterloo, IN - 24.4%
10Chesapeake, VA - 7.9%Anderson, SC - 11.2%Ladson, SC – 24.0%
Fifth District Share of Top 50 Cities28%38%70%

Source: Eviction Lab, author’s calculations. The eviction rate indicates the number of renters out of 100 renter households that received an eviction judgment.

Families who receive court-ordered eviction judgments face short- and long-term financial consequences, along with educational disruptions, physical and mental health challenges, and the risk of homelessness and long-term housing instability. Formal eviction numbers reflect significant variation in state and local regulations and understate the financial pressure that many renters face. Informal evictions and high cost burdens relative to income were challenging to many renter households even before the pandemic. Low-income families are more likely to face moderate or severe housing cost burdens, though the share of middle-income families with high rental burdens has been increasing. Black and Hispanic renters face moderate or severe cost burdens at higher rates than white renters in most Fifth District states. (See table below.)

 % of Renter Households, 2018% of Renter Households with Moderate or Severe Cost Burden, 2018
United States30.6%43%55%53%
District of Columbia57.6%33%58%51%
North Carolina34.9%39%53%49%
South Carolina30.7%40%51%49%
West Virginia27.0%41%51%39%

Source: Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) America’s Rental Housing 2020 Report, Appendix tables W-9 and W-11. (Moderate cost burden: Monthly rent exceeds 30 percent and up to 50 percent of income; severe cost burden: Monthly rent exceeds 50 percent of income).

Renters with a high housing cost burden may have fewer financial reserves to weather labor market shocks like business closures, layoffs, or reduced hours. Calculations by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) show that workers employed in food preparation and service, personal care, and health care support occupations—industries hit hard by the pandemic—had some of the highest rent burdens in the country in 2018. In April, the UC-Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation estimated that more than 16.5 million renters were vulnerable to employment loss in sectors that were immediately impacted by pandemic mitigation efforts and stay-at-home orders, including nearly 1.5 million in the Fifth District. Employment has recovered in some of these industries, but employees in service sectors may still be experiencing reduced labor hours. Even as the economy has improved in many areas, the ongoing pandemic has created new challenges and responsibilities that have kept some Fifth District residents out of the labor force entirely. With narrow household margins on rental affordability, the health and economic impact of the pandemic may acutely impact Fifth District renters.

COVID-19’s Impact on Renters in the Fifth District

Most renters are making their rent payments on time, but eviction moratoria and renter assistance policies may be concealing household financial pressures. State and federal policies have preserved temporary housing stability in some areas, but some residents in states and cities without protections in place have faced eviction during the pandemic. Variations in laws, policies, and the way evictions are processed make it difficult to track and quantify evictions uniformly across the country, and many national databases tracking rental payments do not capture small landlords. The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland has been calculating eviction trends in localities across the country during the pandemic and found early evidence in July that, in the absence of state-level eviction bans, eviction filings returned to near-normal levels in some cities. The Eviction Lab, which is also tracking evictions at the census-tract level for 25 cities, reported that localities without robust state-level eviction moratoria or renter protections saw spikes in eviction filings between the end of the CARES Act protection and the start of the CDC eviction ban. Eviction filings in Richmond, Va., for example, were up 400 percent for the week of Aug. 30 to Sept. 5 relative to historical averages.

The RVA Eviction Lab tracks and analyzes eviction patterns in Virginia. Eviction filings and judgments in Virginia fell significantly between January and July of 2020 relative to 2019 due to state and federal policies, but more than 10,500 eviction filings and 4,500 eviction judgments were issued between July and September. Eviction filings in North Carolina spiked between July 24 and the start of the CDC eviction ban on Sept. 3. While the total number of evictions during this time was lower than the same period in 2019, evicted residents faced challenging circumstances in navigating new housing arrangements during a public health crisis.

Though many formal evictions may be on hold, some renters could be at risk of immediate eviction pending the end of the CDC ban in December. Though most renters remain current on their payments, the ongoing economic disruption and uncertainty caused by the pandemic could pose a risk to household financial stability as federal housing and employment supports end.

What Happens after December?

The temporary assistance initially afforded by the CARES Act and the current CDC moratorium appears to have delayed the direct consequence of displaced families in the near term, but concerns about housing insecurity and eviction risk are growing as the end of 2020 approaches. Notwithstanding the various measures to forestall eviction, RVA Eviction Lab reports that in Virginia 169,000 to 262,000 households were at financial risk of eviction by September once eviction proceedings resumed, which would include 88,000 to 134,000 households with children and affect a total of 301,000 to 741,000 Virginians. The estimated rent shortfall is $169 million to $370 million. On average, tenants owe more than $2,000 in back rent.

Even if many or most of these households are not ultimately evicted, RVA Eviction Lab identifies  how having to make hard financial decisions in order to stay in their homes could create a ripple effect that likely will negatively impact their health, future financial well-being, and credit access. For example, tenants typically prioritize paying their rent when in difficult financial circumstances; to make rent payments, they may shift their household budgets—limiting their health care, medications, and food—and accrue personal credit card debt. Even after the immediate crisis of potential eviction has passed, the possible damage to their credit and personal health may remain a longer-term fixture in their lives.

Exploring possible policy options going forward, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia published a rental debt analysis in October 2020 specifically examining various scenarios ranging from the extension of existing state and federal UI benefits to the absence of any further federal stimulus or financial assistance in the coming year. They found that further extending state and federal UI benefits beyond the maximum 39 weeks in most states would prevent many new households from falling into or going deeper into debt beginning in December. However, many households did not receive UI during the spring and summer and would therefore need to secure alternative sources of rental support. Specifically, the Philadelphia Fed looked at leveraging existing federal housing supports, such as the Housing Choice Voucher and Emergency Solutions Grants programs, as just one option for delivering additional rental relief in lieu of a significant new stimulus package.


Federal, state, and local policies have mitigated housing instability and paused evictions for many renters across the Fifth District, but there is evidence that the slow economic recovery in some sectors and the ongoing public health concerns pose a continued threat to household financial security. Without additional federal action, households in states without financial or legal supports in place may face steep debt burdens and risk eviction when the CARES Act provisions and CDC eviction moratorium expire in December.

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Views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond or the Federal Reserve System.