The Volokh Conspiracy

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Eviction Moratorium

The Eviction "Tsunami" that Wasn't

Defenders of the CDC eviction moratorium predicted a "tsunami" of evictions would happen if the policy were rescinded. That hasn't happened.


Defenders of the Centers for Disease Control nationwide eviction moratorium, first instituted under the Trump Administration and later revived and extended by Biden, claimed there would be a "tsunami" of evictions would if the moratorium were lifted. But no such tsunami has occurred after the moratorium was invalidated by the Supreme Court in August. At the 538 website, Yuliya Panfil, Director of housing policy studies at the liberal-leaning New America research institute, and land use expert David Spievack have a helpful article explaining how and why these predictions went wrong:

Since the pandemic began, housing experts (including one of the authors of this article) have been predicting that the pandemic's economic fallout would produce an eviction "tsunami" that could put as many as 40 million people out of their homes.

The experts are still waiting.

When the pandemic first surged in the U.S., the dire predictions prompted federal, state and city governments to enact emergency policies to temporarily ban evictions. Two national eviction moratoriums lasted nearly uninterrupted for about 17 months, until August 2021, and some states and cities still have eviction and other tenant protections in place today.

When the national moratorium lifted, housing experts, renter advocates and policymakers braced for a surge of evictions. Now, four months later, evictions have increased, but data suggests that a tsunami has yet to materialize. Some still think one is coming, as courts begin working through a backlog of eviction filings, but according to Eviction Lab, the country's most comprehensive tracker of eviction data, evictions in most places are nearly 40 percent below the historical average.

As the authors explain later in their article, tsunami predictions were influenced by a combination of flawed studies and assumptions. For additional critiques of the studies relied on by moratorium advocates, see this Reason article by Aaron Brown and Justin Monticello.

By no means did all land-use and housing experts predicted there would be a "tsunami." In my critique of the initial establishment of the moratorium in September 2020, I pointed out some reasons to be skeptical of such claims,  such as evidence that the Covid pandemic had not led to an increase in evictions to that point, including in areas that had not enacted state or local eviction moratoria.

Even if the federal moratorium did not actually forestall an eviction tsunami, it could be argued it was justified, at the time, by the mere possibility of one. Better safe than sorry! But even if you set aside the severe infringement on landlords' property rights, eviction moratoria are not a free lunch. Research by economists indicates that they lead to increases in the cost and declines in the availability of housing. If landlords fear that governments will impose eviction moratoria during economic downturns and other crises, they will be less willing to rent in the first place (especially to poorer and otherwise marginal tenants) or only willing to do so at a higher price.

None of this by itself proves that the Supreme Court was right to rule against the CDC moratorium. Perhaps the agency had the authority to enact this policy, even if it was a bad idea. However, I do think there were was a strong legal case against the moratorium, and a Supreme Court ruling upholding it would have set a dangerous precedent. I summarized the issues involved in my post about the Supreme Court decision in the case, and earlier writings linked there.

NOTE: The plaintiffs in some of the lawsuits against the eviction moratorium (though not the one the Supreme Court ruled on) were represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, where my wife works. I myself played a minor (unpaid) role in advising PLF on this litigation.