Social Innovation
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America Needs a National Housing Loss Rate

02.22.24 | 3 min read | Text by Yuliya Panfil

The need for a national housing loss rate 

Each year, an estimated 10 to 20 million Americans lose their homes through eviction and mortgage foreclosure, tax sales, eminent domain, post-disaster displacement, and other less-studied forms of housing loss. These destabilizing events lead to homelessness, job loss, adverse health impacts, and downward economic mobility. And yet, America neither tracks housing loss nor holds politicians and decision-makers accountable for keeping it low. There is no national database of evictions or foreclosures, and research from New America found that one in three U.S. counties have no available annual eviction figures. Without a clear picture of housing loss across the country, it is nearly impossible to pass data-driven policies that keep people housed. 

If the United States wants to get serious about stemming housing loss, then it should establish a national housing loss rate to stand alongside the national unemployment rate as a key indicator of social and economic well-being. The creation of a housing loss rate—a metric of how many people lose their homes involuntarily over a given period of time, and why—would help drive accountability and action among policymakers and improve resource allocation, regulation, and housing supply interventions. 


We envision working on two parallel, mutually reinforcing tracks to establish home loss as a regularly tracked indicator, akin to the unemployment rate. The first track would employ a survey-based approach to establish a national housing loss rate, while the second, longer-term effort would build local infrastructure to collect and analyze data on actual incidences of housing loss. 

Congressional Action 

Congress should direct one of the lead federal housing agencies —  most likely the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), or the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) — in consultation with the others to produce a feasibility study of developing and deploying a nationally representative survey to measure housing loss. The feasibility study should assess the most promising data collection strategies, the body responsible for implementing this effort (and whether this effort should be hosted inside or outside of government), and methodological questions such as the desired frequency, geographic coverage, and scope of the survey. 

Executive Action 

Concurrently, HUD, FHFA, the CFPB and the Census Bureau should use their existing authority to assess the feasibility of including housing loss questions or modules into surveys over which they have jurisdiction. Surveys identified by experts as possible entry points include the Census Pulse Survey, the American Community Survey, the American Survey of Mortgage Borrowers, and the American Housing Survey. Where the insertion of questions is feasible, HUD and Census should work with housing experts to develop and pilot proposed questions. 

The Domestic Policy Council (DPC) should convene federal housing agencies to establish a comprehensive housing loss data collection, storage, and sharing strategy (including a plan for free, public access to the data in a way that also protects privacy) in consultation with housing advocates and academics. An interagency process to establish a national housing loss rate would be the strongest lever to achieve meaningful executive action. 

Finally, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) should incorporate housing loss into its Life Experiences projects. The Customer Experience Executive Order, enacted in 2021, requires OMB to work with the DPC and the National Economic Council to study salient “life experiences” during which Americans interact with government services, in an effort to improve government efficiency. OMB should explore whether better tracking of housing loss could be incorporated into one of the existing projects—it is most relevant to facing a financial shock and recovering from a disaster—or whether housing loss could be the subject of its own life experience project. 


Developing a national housing loss rate will take time and resources, and most likely will require congressional action and funding. A survey effort would likely need a time horizon of at least five years, and collecting and understanding actual incidences of housing loss will take significantly more time. However, as with the U.S. unemployment rate, which took decades to establish, the necessity of such a metric justifies the effort. A housing loss metric, if rigorous, regularly collected, and available at the national, state, and local level, would have profound impacts on our understanding of the causes and consequences of home loss and improve our ability to develop policies and programs that keep people more securely housed.

This idea of merit originated from our Housing Ideas Challenge, in partnership with Learning Collider, National Zoning Atlas, and Cornell’s Legal Constructs Lab. Find additional ideas to address the housing shortage here.