1 Executive Summary

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Evictions contribute to homelessness due to rising rents, the lack of affordable housing, and rent burden. In 2018, the number of citizens who were homeless reached Great Recession numbers.1 The average rent in all of Washington rose from under $800 to $1,000 between 2003 and 2019, which means you need to make about $40,000 in 20192 to avoid rent burden (paying more than 30% of your income to rent). In order to afford to rent an average-priced home in King County, where rents have reached $2,200, you need to make about $90,000, in Clark County you need about $65,000, and in Pierce you need about $55,000.3

Current homelessness is related to the rapid population growth in the major metropolitan areas with housing construction not being able to keep pace with demand. For instance, between 2010 and 2017, the population in King county rose from 1.931 to 2.189 million,4 a growth of 13.3%. At the same time the number of housing units rose by 7.9%, from 835,600 to 902,100.5 As result, Washington State has lost over 90,554 affordable rentals6 since 2000, where 85% (76,865) of those homes disappeared between 2012 and 2017.7 These affordable units were lost to either increased rent or demolition. As a result of growing inequality,8 the current housing crisis is more concentrated toward the low wage population. During the Great Recession, households lost their homes due to a broad economic crisis impacting every facet of the economy but today, it is mostly impacting a portion of the population that never really recovered from the recession.

Research shows that low-income households are most likely to be evicted where stagnant wages and inadequate welfare are unable to compete with increases in rent. Research also shows that 80% to 90% of evictions are due to falling behind on rent where over 1/3rd of the defendants in the study were contributing over 80% of their income to rent.9 10 In 2017, 46% of Washington households were rent burdened (contributing more than 30% of your income to rent) with about half of those households contributing more than 50% of their income to rent. This means that thousands of households are constantly on the verge of losing their home to an increase in rent or eviction due to rent burden.

The University of Washington’s Eviction Project was formed in the Summer of 2018 to measure and analyze this complex issue of evictions using court records, census data, and housing market trends across the state. We combine advanced data science techniques with demographic, urban sociology, and economic theory to understand how rent, changing neighborhoods, homelessness, and evictions relate to housing insecurity.

What we have found so far is troubling.

Washington Evictions Are:

  1. Pervasive
    • Between 2013 and 2017, 1 in 55 Washingtonian adults had an eviction (130,203 adults which equals 1.8% of the State’s adult population)
    • Between 2004 and 2017, 397,697 adults have received a formal eviction.
  2. A Civil Rights Issue
    • Black adults are over-represented in the eviction process when their group’s population consists of at least 5% of the county’s total population.
    • In Pierce County, 1 in 6 black adults has had an eviction between 2013 and 2017. In King County, 1 in 11 black adults has had an eviction in King County over the same time period. For white adults, 1 in 50 in Pierce County and 1 in 100 in King were evicted.
    • Women are evicted more than men across the state.
  3. Legally Under-Represented
    • only 8% of unlawful detainer defendants had legal representation at some point in their eviction process.
    • The most common resolution for an eviction is a default judgment–a no-show to a court hearing. In these circumstances, unlawful detainer defendants are almost guaranteed to receive the maximum penalty and fines requested by the landlord, putting them further behind than just losing their home.

1.1 The purpose of this website

In light of the increases of rent and lack of affordable housing, there is no wonder why we are seeing an increase in the number of citizens who are homeless. Given that evictions contribute to this problem, and that it is a highly understudied phenomenon in Washington, we believe it is important to share these findings with the public as soon as possible, raise awareness to the issue, and provide tools for policymakers to address this issue. In most contexts, academics publish these types of findings in journals that rarely reach the public eye. Therefore, we created this website to host a living document that will be frequently updated as we find new results. This early version shows the basics of what we have found so far. Over the next year, we will be adding more content and context.

1.2 How to use this website

This document is laid out in sections where, on the left, you will see a table of contents that you can easily navigate. You will also notice arrows on either side of the text that you can use to navigate to the previous or next section.

1.3 Funding for this research

This research was conducted within the context of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative and the UW Urban Analytics Group led by Bill Howe, with funding from Microsoft, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the eScience Institute. Additional funding for this research was provided by Enterprise Community Partners, the Gordan and Betty Moore Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Material support was provided by the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology.

  1. This count underestimates the total number of those experiencing homelessness as it does not include people that are doubling up with friends or family.

  2. Housing and Urban Development Fair Market Rent Data

  3. HUD FMR Data

  4. US Census

  5. American Community Survey

  6. Affordable rentals are units that are $800 or less in 2017 dollars and adjusted for inflation.

  7. U.S. Census

  8. Economic Policy Institute estimates that between 2009-2015, the top 1% of income earners captured 42% of the total income growth in Washington State.

  9. Brophy, Paul C., and Rhonda N. Smith. “Mixed-income housing: Factors for success.” Cityscape (1997): 3-31.

  10. Desmond, Matthew. “Unaffordable America: Poverty, housing, and eviction.” Fast Focus: Institute for Research on Poverty 22, no. 22 (2015): 1-6.