Data from the Maine Judicial Branch shows that evictions in the state have increased dramatically since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year’s numbers are on track to rival the 15-year high reached back in 2014.
The figures, made available from the Maine Judicial Branch, reflect the number of eviction filings made with the courts, as opposed to the number of judgements entered.
From 2009 through 2014, eviction filings increased gradually each year — starting at 4,672 in 2009 and reaching their peak in 2014 at 6,261.
Between 2014 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, eviction filings — generally speaking — began decreasing year-over-year, getting as low as 5,790 in 2017.
Following a slight uptick to 5,833 in 2018, there was a notable drop in evictions just prior to the start of the pandemic in 2019 — dropping to 5,125.
During the pandemic, eviction filings plummeted to just 3,104 — the lowest yearly total in at least fifteen years. This decrease is not necessarily surprising, however, given that the federal government issued a constitutionally dubious order halting eviction proceedings for several months during the height of the pandemic.
Eviction filings increased 60 percent between 2020 and 2022, and an analysis of the numbers generated from the first seven months of each year reveals a 129% increase from 2020 to 2023.
The increasingly large uptick in evictions in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit can likely be attributed to a few key factors.
First — and perhaps most obviously — the end of the COVID-era eviction moratorium can reasonably be understood as a catalyst for the rising numbers.
Not only were eviction proceedings allowed to return to business-as-usual, but there was likely a backup of cases where landlords postponed evicting tenants until a later date as a result of the moratorium, resulting in a suddenly higher number of requests made to the courts when it was lifted.
Secondly, there was an influx of relief funds distributed to renters during the pandemic that have been gradually drying up over the past couple of years. That federal funding ended in December.
As these dollars began to disappear, more and more renters were finding themselves unable to afford their rent. Consequently, landlords found themselves filing for evictions at an increasingly-higher rate.
Chris Marot of Pine Tree Legal Assistance suggested a third possible reason for these increased evictions when he spoke to Maine Public earlier this year.
According to Marot, developers have been coming into the state, purchasing large apartment buildings, renovating them, and then utilizing “no-cause” evictions to kick out all the property’s existing tenants.
In his interview with Maine Public, Marot also cited the end of federal rental relief as a driver of evictions in recent months.
As far as 2023 concerned, it appears that eviction filings are on track to rival those of 2014.
Looking at the historical data, the figures for January through July generally mirror those of the full year, suggesting that this is likely to be the case for 2023 as well.
Eviction filings so far for 2023 currently represent a 43 percent increase compared to the numbers from this same time frame in 2022.
These increased evictions come in the midst of statewide conversations about affordable housing and homelessness.
Several of Maine’s major cities have been struggling to respond effectively to ever-increasing rates of homelessness, especially as shelters fill up and alternative solutions become unrealistically expensive.
Relatedly, lawmakers at both the state and local level have worked to increase the accessibility of “affordable housing” units.
Last year, the Legislature voted to pass a series of one-size-fits-all zoning mandates aimed at expanding “affordable housing” throughout the state.
While some cities and towns have readily and easily embraced these changes, others have struggled to adapt the new rules to their distinct local circumstances.
Although the data available so far for 2023 is indicative that eviction filings will approach record-setting territory this year, it still remains to be seen how the final months of the year will play out — particularly given the intense focus on homelessness and affordable housing that has characterized Maine’s political scenes in recent months.