Two recent publications from a team of interdisciplinary researchers document the profound impact of evictions on COVID-19 transmission and mortality. “Pandemic Housing Policy: Examining the Relationship Among Eviction, Housing Instability, Health Inequity, and COVID-19 Transmission” describes how housing instability can be a driver of COVID-19 transmission, a challenge that disproportionately affects those with pre-existing health conditions and households of color. “Expiring eviction moratoriums and COVID-19 incidence and mortality” finds that lifting state eviction moratoriums led to an estimated 433,700 excess COVID cases and 10,700 excess deaths.
To assess the extent to which evictions increase COVID-19 transmission and mortality, researchers compared COVID-19 rates during state eviction moratoriums and after moratoriums were lifted. The study sample included 43 states and the District of Columbia. Twenty-seven states lifted their eviction moratoriums during the study period (between March 13 and September 3, 2020), and 17 states had moratoriums for the duration of the study period. Their analysis attempted to isolate the impact of eviction moratoriums on dampening the spread of COVID-19 by accounting for other factors such as each state’s test count, school closures, stay-at-home orders, and mask mandates.
The researchers found that COVID-19 mortality significantly increased seven weeks after states lifted their moratoriums, with 1.6 times higher mortality compared to states that maintained their moratorium. COVID-19 cases increased significantly ten weeks after states lifted their moratoriums, with 1.6 times higher incidence. These magnitudes continued to increase as time went on; sixteen weeks after lifting moratoriums, these states experienced a mortality rate 5.4 times higher and an incidence rate 2.1 times higher than comparison states. Nationally, the researchers found that lifting eviction moratoriums led to an additional 433,700 COVID-19 cases and 10,700 associated deaths.
Increased evictions disproportionately affect those with pre-existing health conditions, as people at the highest risk of eviction are simultaneously more likely to experience poor health outcomes. These include comorbidities such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and pulmonary disease. Poor health conditions make these renters more susceptible to experiencing a severe or fatal case of COVID-19 if they were to be evicted.
Renters of color are more likely to experience housing instability and eviction compared to white renters, largely due to historically discriminatory housing policy and current income disparities. This not only puts renters of color at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure, but also exacerbates existing COVID-19 disparities. For example, Black and Latinx people are 4.7 and 4.6 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 compared to white people, respectively.
Given the mounting evidence linking evictions to COVID-19 transmission and mortality, the authors assert that eviction moratoriums are key to stopping evictions and reducing COVID-19 incidence. In addition to moratoriums, other policies including emergency rental assistance, eviction diversion, and right to council can improve housing stability and reduce rental debt among those affected by the pandemic. The authors note that while these stop-gap measures are important in the short-term, policy makers must address the root causes of housing insecurity and inequity in order to achieve health justice.