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Opinion | The Eviction Crisis: What We Don’t Know

More recently, the Eviction Lab launched a tool for monitoring eviction filings in real time across five states and 19 additional cities. And the Eviction Tracking System has allowed us to assess the efficacy of eviction moratoriums.

But these data sets are incomplete, and exist only because of the voluntary efforts of activists, lawyers, reporters, court officials and data scientists from around the country. Even the most dedicated teams of housing policy experts are no replacement for the financial resources and legal power of the federal government.

The Eviction Tracking System, for instance, covers only one in five renter households. That’s because not all counties make data available, and a nongovernmental organization cannot force them to do so. In short, it’s nobody’s job to provide this crucial housing information, so it doesn’t get done.

It would be wrong to reduce the collection of this data to an intellectual exercise for housing wonks. Systematically mapping evictions empowers working people and the public servants on their side, who are in desperate need of stronger evidence to fight for them.

A federal database would, for instance, make it much easier to track whether eviction enforcement is in line with renters’ legal protections. Thousands of evictions that are illegal, or at least legally suspect, are being carried out across the country despite the federal eviction moratorium, but we don’t have a way to track or prevent them.

The Biden administration has a number of ways to establish a national eviction database. Congress could pass a law directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to create one — the bipartisan Eviction Crisis Act, introduced in the Senate in December 2019, proposes just that. Development of an eviction database has support in the House of Representatives as well. Mr. Biden could also direct the department to establish a database via executive order.

Still, to have teeth, these regulatory measures would need funding. An eviction database requires a sustained investment in data collection, standardization and management. The previous Congress authorized initial funding for a feasibility study, but a long-term commitment is required.

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