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Forced Displacement From Rental Housing: Prevalence and Neighborhood Consequences

Abstract

Drawing on novel survey data of Milwaukee renters, this study documents the prevalence of involuntary displacement from housing and estimates its consequences for neighborhood selection. More than one in eight Milwaukee renters experienced an eviction or other kind of forced move in the previous two years. Multivariate analyses suggest that renters who experienced a forced move relocate to poorer and higher-crime neighborhoods than those who move under less-demanding circumstances. By providing evidence implying that involuntary displacement is a critical yet overlooked mechanism of neighborhood inequality, this study helps to clarify why some city dwellers live in much worse neighborhoods than their peers.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This paragraph is informed by Desmond’s (2012, 2016) ethnographic fieldwork among evicted families, landlords, and the sheriff eviction squad in Milwaukee between 2008 and 2013.

  2. 2.

    Because we interviewed mostly leaseholders, the MARS sample largely excludes the homeless. Assuming that renters able to locate subsequent housing after forced removal are in some important ways better off than those who are not, our focus on the former likely biases our estimates of forced removal toward the conservative.

  3. 3.

    Respondents who listed multiple reasons for moving were assigned to the category that most limited their choices. Forced moves were given explanatory primacy over responsive and voluntary moves, and responsive moves were given primacy over voluntary moves.

  4. 4.

    Although other kinds of moves may be consequential for locational outcomes (e.g., McDonald and Richards 2008), we maintain a strict definition of involuntary mobility. When a renter moves, say, to care for an ailing parent, s/he exercises choice in the matter. The move is not exactly “voluntary” in the sense of relocating to a better neighborhood or bigger house, but neither is it “involuntary” in the sense that a family is literally forced from their home by an outside party. There is a qualitative difference between involuntarily moving because one must and choosing to move in response to undesirable circumstances. We found no evidence that responsive moves were associated with significant changes in neighborhood quality relative to voluntary moves.

  5. 5.

    The NIBRS includes 21 Group A and 11 Group B offenses. Group A offenses include arson, assault, bribery, burglary, forgery, destruction of property, drug offenses, embezzlement, extortion, fraud, gambling, homicide, kidnapping, theft, motor vehicle theft, obscenity, robbery, forcible and nonforcible sex offenses, stolen property, and weapons violations. Group B offenses include bad checks, curfew violations, disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, drunkenness, nonviolent family offenses, liquor law violations, peeping Toms, runaways, trespassing, and all other offenses.

  6. 6.

    Respondents were asked, “Is the federal, state, or local government helping to pay your rent, for example, through the rent assistance program?”

  7. 7.

    Foreclosures in Milwaukee increased in the latter part of the 2000s as they did across the nation. During the years that this survey was conducted, however, the foreclosure rate in the city was lower than the national average. For example, in June 2010, the foreclosure rate among outstanding mortgage loans was 2.3 % in the Milwaukee metropolitan area and 3.1% nationwide (June Foreclosure Rates Increase in 2010 2010). In March 2009, Wisconsin enacted legislation (Wis. Stat.§ 704.35 and 846.35) that required landlords in foreclosure to provide notice to their tenants at various stages of the process and allowed tenants to remain in their rental unit for up to two months after a foreclosure judgment and sale. In June 2011, these statutory protections were withdrawn in the Wisconsin governor’s budget. Most landlord foreclosures observed in our data (64 %) took place when these protections were still in place. If landlords observed these regulations and tenants took advantage of these protections, then the landlord foreclosures that we observed were by and large more drawn-out and formalized processes compared with other types of forced moves.

  8. 8.

    According to Milwaukee court records, 3.5 % of renter households experienced a formal eviction in a typical year between 2003 and 2007 (Desmond 2012). According to the weighted MARS estimates, almost 2 % of Milwaukee renters reported experiencing a formal eviction in the year prior to being surveyed.

  9. 9.

    In supplemental analyses, we investigated whether renters displaced via “formal eviction”—processed through the court system and thus accompanied by a record—experienced a more acute drop in neighborhood quality than did other forced movers. We found some suggestive evidence indicating this to be the case. An interaction term indicating whether a forced move was formal was positive, substantively large (b = 0.3), and marginally significant (p < .10).

  10. 10.

    The effect sizes reported in Table 2 are associated with a single move. Supplementary analyses indicated that renters who experienced back-to-back forced moves experienced even larger decreases in neighborhood quality, especially with respect to the poverty rate (p < .05), than renters whose most recent move was forced but did not follow a previous forced move.

  11. 11.

    Supplementary analyses found no evidence that renters who experienced a forced move relocated to more racially segregated neighborhoods. We also found only weak evidence that the distance between movers’ current and previous address was smaller for the involuntarily displaced, after adjusting for large move distances disproportionately undertaken by voluntary movers relocating across city or state lines.

  12. 12.

    Terms interacting racial identity variables with our forced move treatment were not statistically significant at the p < .05 level.

  13. 13.

    Statistics in this paragraph were calculated using the full MARS sample (N = 1,086).

  14. 14.

    In a separate article, we found little evidence that job loss brings about forced removal from housing (Desmond and Gershenson 2015). In that study, roughly one-half of forced moves resulting from missed payments were attributed to income losses. Some respondents mentioned being laid off or having their work hours reduced, but more commonly they observed that their housing situation was financially unsustainable from the start, as with extremely rent-burdened households.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, through its “How Housing Matters” initiative. We thank Weihua An, Vicki Been, Rogers Brubaker, Michael Carliner, Jorge De la Roca, Kathryn Edin, Ingrid Gould Ellen, Marion Fourcade, Carl Gershenson, Jack Katz, Barbara Kiviat, Kristin Perkins, Adam Slez, Edward Walker, Bruce Western, and seminar participants at UCLA; Northwestern University; the University of Queensland; the Harvard School of Public Health; the NYU Colloquium on Law, Economics, and Policy; and the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management.

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Correspondence to Matthew Desmond.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 4 Summary statistics: Milwaukee Area Renters Study, recent movers (weighted)

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Desmond, M., Shollenberger, T. Forced Displacement From Rental Housing: Prevalence and Neighborhood Consequences. Demography 52, 1751–1772 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-015-0419-9

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Keywords

  • Neighborhood selection
  • Urban inequality
  • Residential mobility
  • Eviction
  • Displacement