San Francisco has a lower eviction rate than you might expect – here’s what it means

San Francisco experienced 593 evictions in 2016, according to new data compiled by Princeton researchers. That’s about 1.62 evictions each day.

The Bay Area figures are low compared to many other parts of the state and the country. California as a whole experienced more than 40,000 evictions in 2016 – an eviction rate of .83 per 100 renter-occupied household.

The California eviction rate is actually 1.51 percent under the national average; San Francisco is 2.09 below. As a point of comparison, in North Charleston, South Carolina, courts served 3,660 eviction notices in 2016 – or 10.3 households evicted per day. The Princeton data shows Southeastern cities have the highest eviction rates in the country, not expensive coastal cities, as one might expect.

The figures comes from a new project by Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Evicted.” Desmond and a team of researchers launched Eviction Lab earlier this month to serve as the first-ever database of nationwide evictions.

The project is an impressive one, but it’s difficult to comprehend evictions as data for multiple reasons. For one, comparing state and county eviction rates is an analytical nightmare.

“It’s like looking at apples and oranges,” said Robert Collins, executive director of the San Francisco Rent Board, which publishes its own annual eviction report. The data from the rent board’s most recent report projects slightly different data from Desmond’s findings – 1,881 attempted evictions in 2016 compared to Desmond’s 1,176.

Collins had yet to thoroughly probe the Eviction Lab data, but he had some initial misgivings about the project. Other states follow different court procedures for evictions, he said. Plus, they may report filings differently.

To complicate matters, many California eviction court records are sealed, in part to protect tenant privacy in future dealings with landlords. While we do have a sense of how many eviction notices are filed in California courts each year, it’s unclear how many of these result in action.

One must also consider the availability of affordable housing. The median property value in San Francisco County is about double the state average, according to Desmond’s data, while the average annual income is only $20,000 higher in San Francisco compared to the rest of California.

If you lose your home in San Francisco, it’s ostensibly more difficult to find another one compared to other parts of the state and country. Though the eviction rate in Richmond, Virginia, may be nearly 45 times that of San Francisco, the availability of homes is higher in the southeastern state.

Though Desmond’s picture may be incomplete, its value to lawmakers and the public remains. San Francisco is expensive, and it’s difficult to live here, but the county also has a wider safety net and more tenant protections than many others in the nation.

For Collins, it’s important to not dwell solely on data.

“Humans don’t understand things from a mathematical perspective exactly,” he said. “We think in stories … We sob for the individual.”

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