Eviction and Utility Disconnection Moratoriums Led to Fewer COVID-19 Cases and Deaths

A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, “Housing Precarity & the COVID-19 Pandemic: Impacts of Utility Disconnection and Eviction Moratoria on Infections and Deaths Across US Counties,” estimates that moratoriums on both eviction and utility disconnection effectively prevent COVID-19 infections and deaths. For example, eviction moratoriums reduced COVID-19 infections by 3.8% and reduced deaths by 11%. The researchers also find that these effects would have been significantly greater if local moratoriums had been in place since March 2020.

Evictions and utility shutoffs can have damaging effects on a household’s health and well-being, especially during a pandemic, when social distancing and other public health measures limit exposure to the virus. Households that are evicted may have to double up or enter shelters, increasing their risk of COVID-19 exposure. Energy shutoffs also threaten public health, as energy insecurity is associated with respiratory illnesses such as asthma and pneumonia that can make a COVID-19 infection more severe. To address these risk factors, federal, state, and local governments have adopted policies such as eviction and utility disconnection moratoriums to ensure households can remain safely in their homes.

The researchers focused on county-level policies, allowing them to isolate the effect of local policies on COVID-19 spread while controlling for federal and state policies. The researchers use a series of models to predict the extent to which eviction and utility disconnection moratoriums impacted the rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths from March to November 2020. The researchers used COVID-19 infection and death data from the COVID Tracking Project and moratorium data from Princeton’s Eviction Lab, Columbia’s Health Justice Advocacy Clinic, the Food & Water Watch, and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

The researchers found that eviction moratoriums decreased COVID-19 infections by 3.8% and deaths by 11% compared to infection and fatality rates if no local policies had been implemented. Utility disconnection moratoriums also curbed the impact of COVID-19, reducing infections by 4.4% and deaths by 7.4%. Had local eviction moratoriums that were instituted between March and November been in place since the first day of the pandemic, these policies could have reduced COVID-19 infections by an estimated 14.2% and deaths by 40.7%.  If utility disconnection moratoriums had been in place since the onset of COVID-19, infection rates could have been reduced by 8.7% and deaths by 14.8%.

The researchers estimate that had no eviction or utility disconnection moratoriums been implemented in any counties, the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases would be 4,805.6 per 100,000 by the end of November. With these policies in place, the actual estimated cumulative number of infections was 4,410.5 per 100,000 by the end of November. Further, the researchers found that if these local policies had been implemented at the beginning of the pandemic, they could have prevented 395 infections and 52 deaths per county, on average. While these findings are promising, the authors indicate that medium- and long-term solutions to housing security are also critical. Rent and utility assistance programs, for example, will be essential to providing relief as these moratoriums expire.

The paper can be found at: https://bit.ly/36xEWtG