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BSU: Evictions down 30% in 2020 due to rental assistance, court closures

A combination of court closures, rental assistance and a federal eviction moratorium led to a dip in evictions filed in the Gem State last year.

Researchers at Boise State University’s Idaho Policy Institute analyzed data from the Idaho Supreme Court in a new report and found eviction filings and removals dropped by 30% between 2019 and 2020. Last year, 1,893 of Idaho’s 189,292 renters had an eviction filing in court. Of those, 1,127 were formally evicted from their homes by the court.

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Evictions make it difficult to rent again

The statewide eviction rate for the year was .06, which is equivalent to 3.1 households formally removed from their homes by the court every day.

Tracking evictions nationwide has become more of a priority for researchers and housing advocates in recent years. The amount of eviction filings gives insight into the economic well being of low-income families and their ability to afford housing, especially in increasingly tight markets like the Treasure Valley.

Evictions can either be for non-payment of rent, or “for cause” for issues of property damage, criminal activity or other disputes with a landlord. An eviction on someone’s record makes it extremely difficult for a renter to find another place to live and it can result in high fees and possibly result in a small claims court suit from the landlord.

IPI tracked this data for the first time in 2019, which had long been difficult to study due to Idaho’s court case tracking system and how cases were categorized prior to switching to a new system in mid-2018. The researchers plan to continue tracking the data annually in the years to come to monitor trends.

No one program responsible for drop

IPI Research Associate Ben Larsen said there is not one state or federal program that contributed to the decline in filings. The largest dip in filings came in April, when the Idaho Supreme Court delayed a number of hearings, including evictions for nonpayment of rent. Once the courtrooms opened back up, filings ticked back up again and fluctuated as aid programs like expanded unemployment programs stopped and started or rental assistance came available. 

A chart of evictions and filings in 2020. Courtesy of Boise State University’s Idaho Policy Institute.

There were two eviction moratoriums in place during 2020. The first, through the CARES Act, was limited in scope and only impacted people living in properties backed by the federal government. The second one, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and is still in effect until June 30, is broader.

But, Larsen said it only impacted tenants who met certain income requirements and required tenants to fill out specific paperwork to prove their eligibility. It also doesn’t cover tenants who are renting on a month-to-month basis without an active lease agreement.

“We don’t have any information in the number of people who actually submitted those forms because it’s not reflected in our data, but anecdotally we heard that most tenants didn’t know this existed and housing advocates would have to inform tenants this was even an option,” Larsen said. “And it really would be up to the judge to determine whether that petition by the tenant was valid or not.”

Pandemic added to ongoing housing crisis

Eviction moratoriums also do not address the issue of back rent and utilities owed to landlords. In the past year, millions have come into Idaho to help catch renters back up on what they owe. The Idaho Housing Finance Association distributed $12 million at the end of 2020 and there is currently roughly $23 million available for Ada County residents through the Boise City Ada County Housing Authority and $175 million available for renters in the rest of the state.

Jesse Tree Executive Director Ali Rabe, who also serves in the Idaho Senate, said her organization had more success resolving eviction cases by using mediation and rental assistance than by arguing in court using the moratorium. She said 85% of cases in Ada County where these resources were on the table resulted in cases being resolved.

Her team received an influx of support during 2020 and was able to grow their team to seven employees to dispense more rental assistance and help more clients. But, she said it was still fighting an uphill battle as more and more low-income Treasure Valley residents are impacted by the housing crisis that began prior to the pandemic.

“The biggest thing for us still is we’re doing a lot of work to try and keep people in their homes, but if that’s not possible and we have to move them to another place there’s nowhere for them to go,” she said. “We’re seeing more and more renters move out to Caldwell, Nampa and as far as Parma, Middleton and Melba to find a place they can afford.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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