Evaluating eviction prevention initiatives

What works in preventing eviction? There are limited studies of the new policies and programs to mitigate the harms of eviction, but this page spotlights some of these studies — as well as the methods that can be used.

What works when it comes to preventing eviction? There are many different policies, programs, and technology interventions. On this page, we highlight the growing number of studies that evaluate different interventions.

How can we evaluate eviction prevention efforts?

Your evaluation plan will depend on the type of program, as well as the context that you’re in. We have outlined some of the most common study designs here, with links to more resources on these program evaluations.

Random Controlled Trials (RCTs)

Randomized Controlled Trials are often considered the gold standard of evaluating policy impact. See below for many examples of RCTs used to study whether an intervention helps stop eviction judgments, produces better outcomes for low-income tenants, and other key outcomes.

  • With RCTs, researchers identify what intervention is supposed to lead to what outcome. They also identify what population is being targeted.
  • That target population is then randomly assigned to either recieve the intervention ‘treatment’ or be in a control group.
  • Then the resarchers study the outcomes for the traeatment group and the control group. Are there significant differences in outcomes among these 2 groups?
  • If there are signficiant differences, then this can be attributed to the intervention. This kind of analysis can provide reliable evidence about whether a treatment does produce its intended outcomes. RCTs account for other time trends, and address the counterfactual (what would have happened to a person if they didnt’ recevive the treatment?).

See more at the World Bank’s RCT study design page.

Difference-in-Differences Studies

Difference-in-Differences evaluation can be a useful alternative, especially when it’s not feasible or ethical to do an RCT.

  • Like with an RCT, the research team identifies the intervention, the intended outcome, and the target population. They must also identify another group that is similar to the treatment group (who gets the program) to be the control group (who does not receive the program).
  • The team will track data on these two groups before the intervention and after it.
  • They will compare what the difference is for before the intervention and after it for the control group. Then they’ll do the same calculation for the treatment group.
  • What’s the difference between these two differences? Has there been a bigger change for the treatment group, then there has been for the control group? This will indicate whether the intervention has had the expected impact.

See more at the World Bank’s data study resources.

Survey Instruments

Surveys and qualitative interviews can help you understand changes that are not necessarily recorded in data sets. They can help uncover important behaviors, events, experiences, and dynamics.

  • The research team should identify what outcomes or scenarios they want to study. It could be about the experience of certain events, sense of procedural justice, the occurrences in the court procedure, etc.
  • They should identify what existing instruments they can use to capture and measure these outcomes. It is much easier than creating a brand new survey instrument.
  • The survey could be given before the intervention and after. It could be done as an exit interveiew immediately after receiving a service , or it could be a few months after a crisis to learn more about what occurred.

See more at the World Bank’s page on survey design and pilots.

What do we know about what works to prevent evictions?

Legal Services improve eviction case outcomes

The California Courts ran the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act pilot programs starting in 2009. In these pilots, different courts hosted services for low-income people facing eviction in court. These pilot programs included free attorneys to represent the tenant and manage their case; unbundled help with filling in forms and prepping for trial; in-court self help assistance; and housing inspectors to investigate living conditions.

The program included an evaluation that gathered data, and tracked outcomes of the tenants. There was some randomization of who received services, and comparative analysis of what happened in those tenant cases. The full report analysis is here.

The executive summary is here:


Right to Counsel & rent laws’ impact in NYC


Since New York City passed Right to Counsel in 2017 and instituted other rent reforms, there have been several evaluations that document that there are fewer evictions and fewer eviction-related harms.

Feb. 2020 report from Community Service Society on 2019 eviction data analysis: https://www.cssny.org/news/entry/right-to-counsel-and-stronger-rent-laws-helped-reduce-evictions-in-2019

March 2020 NYC Bar Association report on Right to Counsel: https://www.nycbar.org/member-and-career-services/committees/reports-listing/reports/detail/expanding-right-to-counsel-for-tenants-in-new-york-city-housing-court

Autumn 2020: NYU Furman Center: they did an event analysis on zip codes where the right to counsel was rolled out. The study finds that the policy led to higher rates of tenants using lawyers, and lower rates of executed eviction orders. The policy also seemed to increase the number of tenants appearing in response to the court filing.

Legal counsel’s impact for low-income tenants in NYC Housing Court

Carroll Seron, Gregg Van Ryzin, and Martin Frankel. “The Impact of Legal Counsel on Outcomes for Poor Tenants in New York City’s Housing Court: Results of a Randomized Experiment,” Law & Society Review, Volume 35, Number 2

This 2001 study evaluated the effect of having free lawyers represent randomly selected tenants in New York City Housing Court.

The study found that those tenants randomly-given legal aid attorneys were more likely to avoid final eviction orders against them. They were also more likely to get orders to have landlord requirements to repair the home or give rent abatements.

It also found that having legal assistance did not produce delays and court inefficiencies.

The study was a randomized control trial, that chose from tenants waiting in line in Housing Court, who were eligible for legal aid, and that randomized assignment to receive a lawyer or not.

Limited legal assistance vs. Full attorney-client services

D. James Greiner, Cassandra Wolos Pattanayak,
DISTRICT COURT AND PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE”, Harvard Law Review, Vol. 126: 2103, https://harvardlawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/vol126_%20greiner_wolos_pattanayak_hennessy.pdf

A 2013 study compared the outcomes of tenants in Massachusetts who received full legal aid support (with an attorney representing them throughout their eviction case) versus those who received limited, unbundled legal assistance (with some instruction and self-help support).

The study found a sizable impact of having lawyer representation. Those tenants were much more likely to retain possession of their home at the end of the proceedings. They also were more likely to be relieved of more financial obligations, having to pay less of the landlord’s claims of what money was due.

Just cause eviction standards limit evictions

Julieta Cuellar, Effect Of “Just Cause” Eviction Ordinances On Eviction In Four California Cities, Journal of Public & International Affairs,

This 2019 study uses a difference-in-differences study design in California, based on Eviction Lab data on court eviction filings. It compares jurisdictions that enacted just cause eviction policies, to those that did not. It tracks the eviction rates and lawsuit filing rates, comparing the treatment & control jurisdictions.

The study finds that the just cause policy produces significant drops in eviction filing rates & order rates. This is in East Palo Alto, Glendale, Oakland, and San Diego — each of which had just cause standards implemented in the past 2 decades. The researcher compared these 4 cities eviction rates with control cities that have comparable situations, but no just cause ordinance.

Impact of Problem-Solving Housing Courts

Jessica K. Steinberg, Informal, Inquisitorial, and Accurate: An Empirical Look at a
Problem-Solving Housing Court, 42 Law & Soc. Inquiry 1058 (2017).

Jessica Steinberg, a law professor at George Washington University, has a 2017 publication that demonstrates the impact of housing courts that have taken a ‘Problem-Solving’ approach to handle landlord-tenant cases.

The study looks at housing courts in Washington DC, and how judges managed tenant-landlord cases through certain procedures that tenants were more able to bring cases and have accurate case resolutions (that the substantive law was followed).

These new problem-solving procedures include housing inspections, and regular court hearings in front of a judge.

This differs from the traditional court process: filing of papers, settlement negotiations, and issuance of court orders.