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COVID-19 Eviction Crisis: 4 Ways to Utilize Data To Help People & Their Pets

September 16, 2020, Sara Kent

In early August, experts projected that an estimated 30 million–40 million renters could be at risk of eviction by year’s end. And with 72% of renters owning pets, the animal welfare community began sharing resources and developing plans. While the CDC extended its federal moratorium on evictions through December 31, experts in animal management and fair housing policy stress that this moratorium will delay, but not prevent, an eviction crisis

It is still crucial to ask: What services and temporary solutions can be offered to help keep people and pets together? And especially important to Shelter Animals Count, how can data be used to develop these plans, and to better understand what is happening locally, nationally and on a state level? Here are four ways to incorporate data collection and analysis into your eviction response plan.

Use the data to assess what is happening in the community

What are the laws in your state? Your city? How many families have been evicted in your community? The following resources will provide a clearer picture:

Visit Eviction Moratorium Maps to determine local and state protections.

The first nationwide database of evictions, The Eviction Lab at Princeton University offers tools for creating custom maps, charts, and reports on evictions by location.

Abby Volin, attorney and president of Opening Doors, an organization that works with housing providers to develop pet policies, also recommends the following:

  • Look for patterns in cases where pets are surrendered for housing. For example:
    • Geography — certain areas of town/buildings/landlords
    • Type of housing — big multi-family rental buildings, smaller individually owned units, single family houses
    • Type of removal/warning/eviction notices being used
    • Species/breed/size of animals being surrendered
  • What are the type of restrictions typical in your community?
    • Certain breeds?
    • Weight limits? 
    • Is there a pet limit in your community?

What to track at intake

For shelters, we recommend evaluating intake details to measure the impact of evictions in the community:

  • Are you seeing an increase in requests for help finding pet-friendly housing or with pet deposits?
  • Are you seeing an increase in owner surrenders? Are they coming from areas in town that have more renters vs. owners – or even from a particular rental complex?
  • Are you already tracking Evictions as an intake sub-type? If not, consider adding this to your software.

Conversations with those surrendering animals are crucial. Volin recommends digging deeper to determine the root cause of surrenders for “housing reasons:”

  • Does “housing issues” really mean the pet had behavior issues and the housing provider is forcing the individual to rehome the pet? Or something else?
    • Is the landlord forcing the individual to re-home the pet improperly? That is, does the tenant have a legal reason to keep the pet (one example might be service and assistance animals)?
    • Is the person too embarrassed or otherwise wants to hide the real reason for surrendering the pet out of fear of being criticized or judged?

Tracking outreach to those who need support the most

The eviction crisis will likely have the greatest impact on the communities who need support the most—and whom shelters traditionally have struggled to reach. How can you measure the effectiveness of outreach efforts in underserved communities? 

Sloane M. Hawes, MSW, Research Associate at University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection, explains, “One idea for tracking the outreach component of shelter services is to log all outreach staff’s contact attempts, even when they are unsuccessful. We use a simplified model for our research projects,” which includes:

  • address and zip code of household we attempted to contact
  • name of staff person who contacted that household
  • date of contact
  • result of contact 

Hawes then maps these contact results using mapping tool ArcGIS, “for a quick visual of where we’ve been and where we still need to go to reach a ‘representative sample’ of residents in the community.”

Tracking intake diversion

Intake diversion is trickier, because the data collection may exist outside of standard shelter software. Hawes suggests a similar set of fields that might be collected for a standard intake, including:

  • basic demographics on the individual (particularly, zip code, race/ethnicity, household income, education)
  • reason they are considering surrendering their animal
  • which resources the individual was referred to:
    – food pantry
    – housing deposit support
    – temporary foster/sheltering, etc.

Be sure to allow a “check all that apply” option for reasons for surrender, as we know they can be complex and multi-layered. 

As sheltering organizations build plans and programs to keep families intact, the developing housing crisis illustrates the importance of collecting data on the services you provide, not just intake and outcomes. Stay tuned as Shelter Animals Count develops an industry-wide data collection effort to better show the full spectrum of services and support for pets in your communities.

Learn more

Eviction Response Toolkit
The Eviction Lab at Princeton University
Opening Doors

About Sara Kent
Sara Kent is the first Chief Executive Officer of Shelter Animals Count, leading the nonprofit that is home to the national database of sheltered animal statistics. Sara has spent over 20 years helping shelters get the most from digital tools and resources. Sara lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband and adopted pets, including two mixed breed dogs, Diamond Shamrock and Linda; two house cats, Mr. Pickwick and Gerald; and a tarantula named 3.

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