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University of Delaware study underscores link between eviction and homelessness

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media

A new study from the University of Delaware’s Center for Community Research and Service finds more than one-fifth of a sample group of Delawareans experiencing homelessness had recently been through an eviction.

Unlike similar studies conducted in other states, the UD study didn’t rely on self-reported eviction data from people experiencing homelessness; instead, researchers compared evictions filed in Delaware’s Justice of the Peace court to a statewide database of people who used homeless services in 2019.

The study considered evictions as long as two years before an individual or family appeared on the state's database of people experiencing homelessness.

The researchers found a stronger correlation between evictions and homelessness among women — particularly Black women — and families than among men and single adults. Roughly a third of homeless families had been evicted in the two years before coming into contact with homeless services, compared to 16 percent of households without children. Those figures do not include informal evictions, though some evictions do take place outside of the court system.

Steve Metraux, the center’s director and the lead author of the study, attributes that difference to the lower likelihood that a homeless single adult has participated in the rental market.

"The level of eviction for single adults is understandably much lower because... the percentage of people who have had a lease in recent years is going to be a lot lower," he said.

Metraux argues that strategies for reducing family homelessness – including offering rental assistance, mediations with landlords or finding alternative housing – would need to intervene early instead of waiting for families to appear on the radars of homeless services agencies.

“Preventing eviction is going to keep a lot of families out of homelessness," he said. "Families are struggling to pay the rent most months, and when something sinks them, and if you can provide something that keeps them afloat, they'll often be able to get things back together."

But determining how likely a person or family is to become homeless after an eviction would be challenging, so Metraux argues that the state would need to cast a broad net when offering interventions.

Before the pandemic — the period at the center of the UD study — Delaware had one of the highest eviction rates in the nation, with around 18,000 evictions filed annually. Delaware’s moratorium on evictions ended last year and though the number of evictions has not returned to pre-pandemic levels, the number of people interacting with homeless service providers has more than doubled. Families with children made up the largest share of that increase.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.