No, Billions Of People Are Not Being Evicted Today

No, Billions Of People Are Not Being Evicted Today

The screen capture says it all. An Associated Press story that ran last night around 7:30 PM Pacific Time suggested that 3.6 billion Americans would be facing eviction today. “C’mon,” I can hear some people say, “It’s a blooper. They meant millions, not billions.” The fact that such a glaring error got past editors at the Seattle Times might indicate simple human error in the story (which is now corrected), but did anyone at the AP or at the Seattle Times bother to ask where the 3.6 million number came from? And today, that many people are facing eviction. I’ve been posting about the problem with these stories for years now; eviction is rare even with Covid-19 and when it does happen it is expensive and takes a long time.

More than two years ago, before Covid-19 shutdowns destroyed people’s incomes, I posted here that, “There Is No ‘Eviction Epidemic, Just Bad Data And Poor Reporting.” Interestingly, in the post I dismantled the notion that there was an “eviction epidemic” by simply explaining what an epidemic really is, the number of reported cases of a communicable disease that exceeds the endemic rate. I quoted Brendon Koerner quoting the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) definition:

“The occurrence of more cases of disease than expected in a given area or among a specific group of people over a particular period of time.”

The problem with the media in this country is that they gladly accept two things, statements about eviction rates or possible evictions, and the determination that these measures indicate an “epidemic” or a “crisis.” This is grossly uncritical and bizarre. The reporter at the AP when pitched the number 3.6 million should have spent a lot of time, maybe even the whole story, in figuring out where that number comes from. When activists trying to nationalize private rental housing say there is an “epidemic” reporters should look at an eviction rate and ask “compared to what?”

In Seattle, for example, breathless stories were written about “a report” on the “eviction epidemic” as if it were a thing. The whole thing was easily debunked in a few hours with something called math. I wrote a response that highlighted the fact that there were about 1200 evictions filed, and about half that executed, .7 and .3 percent respectively of all rental housing in Seattle. And of those people actually removed, about a third were removed by the housing authority and non-profits. But no reporters in Seattle could be bothered with this basic question which would have begged the question, “Is .3 percent a crisis.” This is true all over the country, filings are few, and removals even fewer.

But certainly a “tsunami” of evictions is coming with Covid-19, right. It’s highly unlikely. This is the other part of the story that the AP reporter failed to bother with; eviction isn’t going to happen the Monday after a ban expires. If she had bothered to look into it, she’d have learned that eviction is like a divorce, contentious, involving lawyers, and ultimately it requires the approval of a judge. Those things don’t happen immediately and can actually last for months. But reporters uncritically embrace the popular view of eviction, that it is carried out by a housing provider. It isn’t. It requires a court order.

How many people will actually face removal because they lost income from Covid-19 lockdowns and thus are behind on rent? Nobody can honestly say they know. First of all, there is no central point of collection of that data. There is no way to know how many people in the country haven’t paid rent at any given time and why they haven’t paid. Survey after survey of actual housing providers, however, found percentages in the low single digits for unpaid rent. Many found that the poorest and hardest working were holding on to the biggest share of that, though.

Finally, and I give the AP reporter credit for reporting this, the biggest question is “Where did all the money go?”

“Another source of frustration for lawmakers is the slow pace of pandemic relief already approved by Congress — nearly $47 billion in federal housing aid to the states — getting to renters and landlords owed payments. Biden has called on local governments to “take all possible steps” to disburse the funds immediately.”

Imagine that, $47 billion dollars allocated and we’re still talking about billions or millions of people being evicted. The failure of government to distribute the allocated rent relief is really the big story and the biggest scandal perhaps of the whole Covid-19 era. The other one is the the press in this country simply failed to report on that and instead hyperventilated about waves of evictions that will never happen.

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