A map of Richmond created by Benjamin Teresa shows overlap between areas with high eviction rates (marked with lines) and areas with high concentrations of poverty (marked in red and pink).

Major research released earlier this year found eviction rates in Virginia cities are among the highest in the country, drawing unprecedented attention to the issue and prompting a policy debate that’s still unfolding.

But what has yet to be addressed in a rigorous academic setting is why eviction rates are so high here.

That’s where a new initiative from VCU’s Wilder school of Government and Public Affairs aims to fill the gap.

“We’ve got the data on what is happening and where it’s happening, but what we don’t have is the why and the how,” said Kathryn Howell, an assistant professor of urban and regional studies, who is launching the effort with her colleague, Benjamin Teresa, who is also an assistant professor of urban and regional studies at the school.

“Is it the case that the same people are being evicted? Is it all because of nonpayment of rent? Are we seeing the same landlords evicting over and over again?”

The effort is called RVA Eviction Lab  —named after Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which conducted the initial research, mining court records to produce the first comprehensive analysis of eviction rates.

Howell and Teresa said they plan to research how evictions are playing out around the state, but will likely focus on urban areas with higher eviction rates and where better data is available for things like code violations and housing vouchers.

The need for data has come up often during early policy discussions.

For instance, at the state Housing Commission’s eviction work group last month, apartment industry officials brushed off a proposal to give tenants 14 days instead of five before landlords can initiate an eviction. They said they would need to see data showing the approach would help.

“If you just add nine more days, you don’t know if someone is going to make their car payment first or something else,” said Ivan Jecklin, co-president and general counsel of Weinstein Properties, one of the largest apartment management companies in the state.

The RVA Eviction Lab is planning to produce an initial report this fall that will outline the scope of the problem, the eviction process, its fiscal and social impact as well as “different policy and the best practices toward eviction prevention and reduction,” Teresa said.

They also plan to create an online tool to share data they’ve collected, release white papers and blog posts exploring specific facets of the issue, hold speaking events and be available as a resource to answer specific questions as policy discussions advance.