Imagine if we didn’t know how many Americans were incarcerated each year or how many dropped out of high school, got divorced, or lost their job. If we don’t know how big a problem something is, where it is happening, or how many families are touched by it, then how can we begin the critical work of finding solutions?
That’s exactly where we’ve been with the topic of eviction: stumbling in the dark. The Eviction Lab wanted to change that. Over the past year, we set out to build the first-ever national database of evictions in America. We spoke with court clerks across the country, scraped data off websites, flew to cities to study eviction data, learned more about the intricacies of Maryland’s housing law than we’d like to admit, and mourned the loss of oil-soaked eviction records stored under the counter of a Texas service station. To date, we have collected over 80 million eviction records going back to 2000.
From the beginning, we saw our work not only as a research endeavor but also as a public service. That meant we were committed to getting every eviction record we could and publicizing that information as soon as possible. Aside from the time we’ve devoted to cleaning and validating the data, we haven’t kept these records to ourselves or submitted any studies on them. Instead, we’ve focused on familiarizing ourselves with the data, boosting confidence in our estimates, and designing an interactive website to encourage collective work dedicated to shining a light on this pressing issue.
This is just the beginning, and we need your help. First, use the data. Researchers and journalists can take this information and deepen what we know about the prevalence, causes, and consequences of residential insecurity. Citizen organizers and elected officials can examine trends in their communities to design effective policy solutions. Teachers, business and faith leaders, and healthcare professionals can leverage the data to raise awareness of evictions in their communities and spark conversations about the importance of a stable, affordable home.
Second, help us improve the data. Even after collecting 80 million records, we still don’t have every eviction in America. As we explain in the Help & FAQ, our eviction counts are underestimated in some states. In other areas, the estimates were so unstable from year to year that we couldn’t publish them. All data have limitations; get to know ours. The Methodology Report is a good place to start. We will continue our effort to provide the most comprehensive data on evictions in America, and we invite you to stay tuned for updates. Moreover, we hope you’ll pitch in. The breadth and depth of America’s eviction epidemic—and its data trail—requires attention from a wide array of people with different perspectives and skills. This is why we’ve adopted an open-source model of data sharing. We need more researchers, city planners, court officers, political leaders, and concerned citizens to join us in filling in the gaps.
Addressing the nation’s housing crisis is central to reducing poverty, stabilizing communities, and expanding opportunity. To effectively address this crisis, we must fully understand it.
Let’s get to work.