Expiration of state eviction protections led to 434,000 extra COVID-19 cases, study finds

Dhara Singh·ReporterDecember 1, 2020·4 min read

The expiration of state eviction protections led to 433,700 additional coronavirus cases and 10,700 excess deaths from March to September, according to a new study.

“We expected there to be a relationship between moratoriums lifting and COVID-19 outcomes,” said Kathryn Leifheit, an epidemiologist who was a lead researcher on the study. “But the size of that difference and the number of deaths associated was larger than we expected.”

Read more: Rental aid: Here’s where you can find help in every state

The study, in the process of being peer-reviewed, draws on data from the COVID-19 Eviction Moratoria and Housing Policy Database from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab and was authored by researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles, John Hopkins University, Wake Forest University, Boston University, and the University of California at San Francisco.

Photo by: STRF/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 9/2/20 The CDC bans evictions in the United States through the end of the year due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. STAR MAX File Photo: 8/20/20 A March on Billionaire Landlords is seen in New York City. Protesters want rent relief and/or a rent freeze during these challenging economic times brought on by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Protesters assembled at the New York Public Library and then headed east on 42nd street towards Madison and Park Avenue - home to some of the priciest real estate in Manhattan.
The CDC bans evictions in the United States through the end of the year due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. A March on Billionaire Landlords is seen in New York City. (STAR MAX File Photo: 8/20/20)

The pandemic could be exacerbated next year when the national moratorium on evictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifts on January 1, according to Lefiheit.

“We’re on a course to be lifting protections nationwide during a time when COVID rates are soaring, with colder temperatures and people spending more time indoors,” Leifheit said. “In this context, effects on the spread of COVID could be stronger.”

Nearly 150,000 excess cases were preventable in Texas

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia instituted an eviction moratorium as early as March 13 and as late as April 30, but 27 lifted them during the seven-month study period. Seventeen states had moratoriums during the entire study period and served as a comparison group.

Read more: Here’s how to negotiate with your landlord if you’re facing eviction

In Texas, the moratorium lift resulted in the largest number of excess cases and deaths in the U.S., the study found.

“Texas has the largest increase of cases and deaths in the study,” Leifheit said. “They lifted their moratorium fairly early on May 18 and our analysis found nearly 150,000 excess cases which were preventable and this resulted in 4,500 excess deaths in Texas alone.”

Detroit, Michigan, USA - August 20, 2014: An evicted house at a suburban street with left belongings on the lawns near the 8 mile road, in the city of Detroit.
Detroit, Michigan, USA – August 20, 2014: An evicted house at a suburban street with left belongings on the lawns near the 8 mile road, in the city of Detroit.

Stats on average had 2.1 times higher incidence and 5.4 times higher mortality rates 16 or more weeks after lifting their moratoriums.

That’s due to a variety of factors, including evicted tenants using public transportation to visit social service agencies and scrambling to find shelter, often doubling up with other households, according to Eric Dunn, director of litigation at the National Housing Law Project, a nonprofit housing and legal advocacy center.

“We applaud the researchers who have empirically confirmed the connections between residential evictions and the increased transmission of COVID-19,” Dunn said. “Only with stable housing can renters and their families practice proper hygiene and social distancing.”

‘People call evictions the Scarlet E’

Housing activists erect a sign in front of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker's house, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Swampscott, Mass. The protesters were calling on the governor to support more robust protections against evictions and foreclosures during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Housing activists erect a sign in front of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s house, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Swampscott, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

An eviction record can make it harder for tenants to secure housing again during the pandemic even if they have the financial wherewithal.

“So many people call evictions the Scarlet E and future landlords can look whether you’ve been evicted and deny you housing,” Leifheit said. “Families will find themselves living in homes that are less safe and neighborhoods that are less healthy.”

Read more: Here’s what you need to know about the new eviction moratorium

Many renters also are employed in industries that are more vulnerable to exposure to the virus, doubling their risk of infection if they are evicted.

“I have personally provided legal assistance to essential workers who work in the retail and restaurant industries who were already facing eviction due to reduced hours or unemployment and were ultimately diagnosed as COVID-19 positive,” said Aisha Thomas, managing attorney at AJT Law Firm in Atlanta.

‘It is now more clear than ever we must extend the CDC order’

While Congress remains at a stalemate when it comes to another stimulus aid package to help struggling Americans, rental experts and health researchers alike say government action on evictions is needed soon to prevent even more Americans losing their homes in 2021.

“It is now more clear than ever that we must extend the CDC order banning evictions,” said Noelle Porter, NHLP’s director of government affairs. “NHLP and the National Low Income Housing Coalition have asked the current administration to extend their order for at least 90 days and it’s imperative that the Biden-Harris administration issue a more clear and broad moratorium.”

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