Stopping homelessness before it happens: How can cities prevent evictions?

Evictions can cause long-term harm and contribute to housing instability and homelessness. Most COVID-era housing relief measures have been phased out, yet housing remains unaffordable for many households. Governments at all levels must do more to prevent a rise in evictions.

As the housing market remains tight and COVID-era relief measures disappear, there are concerns that evictions will increase.

Since early 2021, many jurisdictions have phased out the emergency debt and contract relief measures introduced at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, including eviction bans, rent freezes and mortgage forbearance schemes. Such measures were always intended as temporary relief.

Yet housing remains unaffordable for many households, raising concerns of a possible surge in evictions as households struggle with mortgage repayments and high rental outlays in the face of a cost-of-living crisis.

Eviction rates vary widely across OECD countries, and cross-country data are hard to come by and challenging to compare, as definitions, responsible authorities and data collection methods differ. Post-COVID evictions data are not yet available in many countries.

Before the pandemic, the U.S. recorded by far the highest share of initiated eviction proceedings by landlords (which typically correspond to the first step of the eviction process) – around 6% of all tenant households. By contrast, in European countries with available data, fewer than 2% of tenant households faced eviction proceedings.

Over the course of the pandemic, initiated evictions often reduced by half or more, largely due to temporary relief measures. But since 2021, as most debt and contract relief measures began to phase out, the number of initiated eviction proceedings in cities across the U.S. increased, even if not yet back to pre-pandemic levels.

Many OECD countries introduced emergency
housing relief in response to COVID-19

Housing-related relief measures introduced in OECD countries as of December 2020

Note: This table reflects the status of housing support measures as of December 2020, and has been prepared based on official sources, media reporting and country input. * indicates that the measure applies only to some jurisdictions and/or to qualifying households. Source: Adapted from (OECD, 2021[1])

In Philadelphia, for instance, the number of eviction filings increased by almost 130% between 2021 and 2022. Meanwhile, in London, the number of evictions increased by 112% between 2021 and 2022. In Ontario, Canada – where over 4% of tenant households faced eviction proceedings pre-COVID – eviction proceedings increased by nearly 50% between 2020 and 2022. Part of the increase in these cities may be due to a “rebound effect,” where evictions were carried out that were prevented by temporary eviction bans during the pandemic.

Evictions tend to be costly – for both tenants and landlords

In the U.S., eviction orders increase homelessness, and reduce earnings, durable consumption and access to credit among evicted households. In 381 communities, eviction filings and judgements were found to be strongly associated with rates of sheltered homelessness. Evicted families are more likely to experience depression, material hardship, worse health and have more difficulty accessing credit for several years. Displacement has adverse effects on children, including worse long-term academic performance and lower food security.

Eviction filings, even without judgements, often stay on the public record which may harm households’ ability to find a new place to live for years after. For landlords, eviction are expensive, as legal fees, court costs and lost rent mount up during the process.

COVID-related temporary debt-contract relief measures have been progressively phased out since early 2021 in most OECD countries

Mean of the existence of debt/contract relief measures introduced during the pandemic (e.g., mortgage forbearance, assured continuity of services (e.g. water), eviction bans) across 38 OECD countries1, from January 2020 through January 2023

Note: 1. The “debt-contract relief” variable records if governments are freezing financial obligations for households (e.g., mortgage forbearance, assured continuity of services (e.g. water), eviction bans). The figure displays the mean across all 38 OECD countries for data through 1 January 2023. On the country level coding is carried out in the following way: 0 – no debt/contract relief; 1 – narrow relief, specific to one kind of contract; 2 – broad debt/contract relief. Source: Adapted from (OECD, 2023[1]), based on own calculations using data from Thomas Hale, Noam Angrist, Rafael Goldszmidt, Beatriz Kira, Anna Petherick, Toby Phillips, Samuel Webster, Emily Camerson-Blake, Laura Hallas, Saptarshi Majumdar, and Helen Tatlow (2021), “A global panel database of pandemic policies (Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker),” Nature Human Behaviour,

Preventing evictions: How can cities help?

Eviction bans and rent freezes, which were used during the COVID crisis were never intended as permanent solutions to structural housing challenges. Cities across the OECD are now looking to test new ways to prevent and support households facing eviction.

In some cities, regulations ensure that local authorities are automatically notified when an eviction is filed with the courts, to enable affected households to access homelessness prevention support from social services. In Bamberg, Germany, for example, social services are immediately notified when an eviction is filed, while a new law in Austria obliges the courts to notify local authorities of imminent evictions. A similar law exists in Belgium, which also obliges local authorities to reach out to households facing evictions.

Targeted, one-time financial support can help

Cities across Canada and the U.S. have created rent banks to provide financial aid to households in rent arrears and at risk of eviction. The Toronto Rent Bank provides interest-free loans for rental arrears up to a maximum of CAD 3 500 to help vulnerable tenants.

In 2020, an independent evaluation found that nearly 9 in 10 tenants were living in stable housing arrangements following the first six months of receiving a Toronto Rent Bank Loan. Most tenants are not aware of their rights or responsibilities and may not know how to seek support. To address the information gap, a number of cities provide free advice and counselling services for households in need.

In Finland, housing advisors are increasingly becoming established roles within local governments; they are tasked with preventing evictions by providing advice, connecting the individual to various support services, mediating with landlords, and in some cases providing one-time financial support to pay off rental debt. Meanwhile, in Galway city and Dublin (Ireland), the NGO Threshold provides free legal advice to people facing eviction.

In New York City, the Right-to-Counsel law establishes the right to free legal representation and advice for tenants facing eviction. Since the introduction of the law, the number of tenants with lawyers increased from 1% in 2013 to 63% in the fourth quarter of 2022. Moreover, in 78% of eviction proceedings with representation from lawyers, families were able to remain in their homes.

Such prevention measures are a key tool policy makers can use to stop homelessness before it starts – and must be deployed in more cities as households come under increasing pressure from rising rents and the cost of living.

Read more on the OECD work on affordable housing and homelessness, and stay tuned for our forthcoming monitoring framework, country notes and policy toolkit in 2024-25.

Housing Policy Analyst at OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs | + posts

Marissa Plouin is a lead analyst for the OECD’s work on affordable housing and homelessness, and manages the OECD Affordable Housing Database in the Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs. At the OECD since 2011, she has worked with national, regional and city governments around housing and urban policies. Prior to her current role, she contributed to the OECD’s work on Inclusive Growth in the Office of the Secretary-General. Before joining the OECD, she advised local and national governments in France and in the United States on housing affordability, sustainability and urban policy. She completed her graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Recent work on housing includes: policy briefs on homelessness, social housing, affordable housing policies, and housing for people with disabilities; a report on housing and inclusive growth; and country studies of affordable housing in Lithuania, and affordable housing policies and investment strategies in Latvia.

Statistician at OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs | + posts

Alexandre Lloyd is a statistician at the OECD in the Social Policy Division in the Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs working on affordable housing and homelessness. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics and International Development from Dalhousie University and a Master’s in International Economic Policy from the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po. Previously, he worked as a Parliamentary Assistant to a Canadian Member of Parliament and served as a youth diplomat for the Young Diplomats of Canada focusing on issues related to climate change, international finance, and social policy.