Feb. 10, 2022
Imagine being two years into an economic recession, and not knowing whether the unemployment rate is increasing or decreasing. This is exactly the situation we face when it comes to housing displacement in the U.S. We’re two years into a global pandemic–one in which housing and health are inextricably linked–and our understanding of how many people are losing their homes, and where, is murky at best.
In a typical year, an estimated 5 million Americans lose their homes through eviction and foreclosure, two of the most common forms of displacement. These destabilizing events contribute to homelessness, job loss, adverse health impacts, and downward economic mobility. Yet we know little about these events and who is impacted, in large part because cities and counties lack accessible, timely and quality data on evictions and foreclosures. Indeed, a 2021 National League of Cities survey shows that 38 percent of rural leaders and 22 percent of city leaders didn’t even know whether evictions had increased or decreased in the last year.
While poor access to housing loss data is a major challenge, so too is the ability to meaningfully analyze the data that does exist.
While poor access to data is a major challenge, so too is the ability to meaningfully analyze housing loss data that does exist. To address this need, New America's Future of Land and Housing program and DataKind developed the Foreclosure and Eviction Analysis Tool (FEAT), an open source tool that helps local leaders understand where housing loss is most acute, when during the year housing loss is occurring, and who is most impacted.
Both the data tool (which is stored in a GitHub repository) and an accompanying user guide will be released next week on our website. But at a high level, FEAT is a data transformation tool that standardizes and geocodes raw eviction and/or foreclosure data into analysis that can be used to track and prevent housing loss over time.
We partnered with over a dozen cities and counties to develop and test FEAT. In some localities, just knowing how many evictions and foreclosures are occurring each year may vastly improve existing knowledge. In others, annual counts may exist, but understanding where within a city or county these are most acute, and who predominantly lives in these neighborhoods, provides opportunities to target rental assistance or conduct outreach for diversion programs. And for those who already collect and analyze this data regularly, FEAT lays the groundwork for further investigating the causes and consequences of housing loss, as the open source tool can be built upon by integrating additional data and analytic capabilities.
As detailed in HUD’s report to Congress on the feasibility of a national eviction database, there’s federal momentum for better understanding housing displacement. But this kind of investment will take time, and understanding who is at risk of displacement, and where, is critical now, especially as local leaders make decisions about how to keep people stably housed today amidst a global pandemic, rising homes prices, a severe shortage on affordable homes, and widespread wage stagnation. Analysis at the local level is just as important, if not more so, for ensuring housing security is preserved and extended to all.
Displacement not only disrupts lives, but disrupts the ability to achieve, or build towards, housing security–a basic human need without which, every other aspect of life becomes more difficult, if not impossible. This data tool is designed to help cities and counties understand who is impacted by housing loss, and where, while also presenting an opportunity for more complex analysis in the future.
You can find more information about the forthcoming data tool and our other eviction and foreclosure data collection and analysis efforts here. And you can also subscribe to the Future of Land and Housing monthly newsletter to make sure you don’t miss any updates about the data tool.
FLH and DataKind would like to thank the following contributors for their invaluable role in the development of the Foreclosure and Eviction Analysis Tool, including Manu Sharma, Rachel Thurston, Allie Surina, Joe Grange, Jeff Markey, Ozzie Liu, Proma Bhattacharyya, Emily Yelverton and Dona Stewart.