Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
John Roberts, Gordan Gauchat, Thomas Byrne
This dissertation examines how community racial composition, area eviction filings, and the strength of COVID-19-related eviction moratoria were associated with racial gaps in homelessness in the United States before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Past studies depicted homelessness solely as a housing problem, mostly reducing race to an individual-level determinant and obscuring the differential association community racial composition may have with racial gaps in the rates of homelessness. High rental costs, low rental vacancy rates, and high crowding rates in rental units create a difficult housing market for many residents, but they do not fully explain the racial gaps in homelessness. This dissertation examines how Black-White gaps in homelessness rates are associated with community racial composition, area eviction filing rates, and stronger state eviction moratoria during the COVID-19 pandemic using U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Point-In-Time (PIT) estimates of homelessness disaggregated by race. Homelessness is obviously a housing problem, but race is an important factor because racial disparities in homelessness across U.S. communities are tangible. Using two competing theses, Blalock’s group threat theory and embeddedness theory, and fixed effects regression models, I assessed whether increases in percent Black within communities would increase Black-White gaps in homelessness. The results supported embeddedness theory, which hypothesized that percent Black would be negatively associated with racial gaps in homelessness rates. Minoritized racial groups present in large groups in an area may generate increased informal support, social capital, and care capital among these racial groups. Such social capital could lead to organization and mobilization of resources that might mitigate the risks of experiencing homelessness among lower income Black people. Matching 2018’s latest data on county-level evictions from the Princeton University Eviction Lab and 2019’s HUD PIT estimates, I estimated a series of ordinary least square regressions and seemingly unrelated regressions to examine whether metro area eviction filing rates were positively associated with racial gaps in rates of homelessness. Results showed a significant association between eviction filing rates and Black-White gaps in homelessness rates. In areas with relatively high eviction filing rates, there were also high racial gaps in rates of homelessness. This finding extends the recently established positive relationship between evictions and homelessness by suggesting that areas with higher eviction filing rates are likely to disproportionately target Black renters, with the consequence that low-income Black renters are at greater risk of eviction-led homelessness. Thus, higher eviction filing rates are associated with higher gaps in Black-White rates of homelessness. As the COVID-19 pandemic confronted U.S. communities with a looming public health crisis, states responded with policies such as eviction moratoria. However, given the polarized character of public policy regimes in the decentralized U.S. federal system, states varied in the strength of their eviction moratoria. Stronger state eviction moratoria were more relevant for low-income Black renters for prevention of homelessness for two major reasons. First, the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated unprecedented job loss, housing hardships, and SARS-CoV-2 infection and mortality among Black people. Second, low-income Black renters were historically disproportionately targeted for eviction. I created the Eviction Moratoria Index as a proxy for the strength of state eviction moratoria. After accounting for racial power, rental market characteristics, and economic factors during the pandemic, there was no significant association between the Eviction Moratoria Index and change in rates of homelessness and change in racial gaps in homelessness rates. Irrespective of these null findings, the results were instructive for future research employing pre-pandemic landlord-tenant policy regimes that might have played a role in nullifying the association between the Eviction Moratoria Index and change in rates of homelessness before and during the pandemic. Moreover, future research should examine multi-level associations between the strength of state eviction moratoria and community-level change in racial gaps in homelessness rates. Findings from this dissertation offer benefits to scholars across multiple disciplines, activists, service providers, advocates, and policy makers who are concerned about homelessness and who wish to effectively develop racially equitable interventions to prevent and reduce homelessness in communities across the United States. This study offers empirical evidence encouraging stakeholders to consider racial equity measures, racial power measures, and racial disparities in homelessness while collaborating and coordinating policies, programs, and practices to prevent and reduce homelessness in U.S. communities. This study advances the sociology of homelessness using a lens of racial equity in housing outcomes. It has implications for research, policies, and practices in homelessness because it highlights the need to explicitly address racism and racial gaps in homelessness rates. Policies and practices to prevent and reduce homelessness at local, state, and federal levels will be most successful when stakeholders reconceptualize homelessness as a racial-equity and racial justice issue.
Tamla Rai, Vijaya, "Homelessness, Evictions, and Race in U.S. Communities Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic" (2023). Theses and Dissertations. 3362.
Available for download on Monday, September 01, 2025