Preliminary Research Shows Evictions Contribute to Spread of COVID-19

A research team led by an epidemiologist at the University of Pennsylvania shared early work on a mathematical model of the potential impact of evictions on COVID-19 spread. In simulated scenarios, higher eviction rates increased infection levels and deaths due to the epidemic. A monthly eviction rate of 0.25% of all renter households led to infections in an additional 1.5% of the population compared to a no-eviction baseline, and a 2% per month eviction rate led to infections in an additional 13%. In all the scenarios studied, higher eviction rates led to increases in disease prevalence.

To estimate the effects of evictions on infection rates, the authors used an existing epidemic model that measures the effect of social distancing interventions on the spread of COVID-19. The greater the number of social connections people are estimated to have, the faster the epidemic is expected to spread. For this project, the researchers assumed that all evicted households “double up” with another household, increasing the number of interactive connections between people. This preliminary analysis did not account for households who instead enter shelters.

The authors examined several scenarios with different lockdown policies and different rates of evictions. Baseline rates across U.S. cities vary from around 0.1% to 1% of all renter households per month. For the modeling, the authors looked at the effect of eviction rates of 0%, 0.1%, 0.25%, 0.5%, 1%, and 2% per month. The highest rates approximate the level of evictions predicted in a recent report published by NLIHC and other partners, in which up to 40 million people might be at risk (see Memo, 8/10).

Higher eviction rates consistently led to increases in the spread of COVID-19. The first scenario included a large early epidemic peak, a strong lockdown, and a relatively quick removal of social distancing measures. In this scenario, when the eviction rate was set at 0.25%/month, 1.5% more of the population caught COVID-19 by the end of 2020 compared to a scenario with no evictions, accounting for approximately 15,000 additional cases and 150 additional deaths. When the eviction rate was set at 2%/month, the infection level was 13 percentage points higher than the baseline.

A relationship between evictions and infection was found in all the other scenarios they ran, even when they modified the size of the early epidemic peak, the strength of social distancing policies, and the speed of the removal of such policies. They found that the effect of evictions was particularly large in cities with a smaller initial wave and weaker lockdown, like Atlanta, Miami, and Phoenix.

The authors note that in all the scenarios, individual risk of infection was substantially higher for individuals who experienced eviction or who doubled up with an evicted household.

While the work is ongoing, the research has already been cited in the U.S. District Court of Philadelphia as evidence that anti-eviction policies help reduce the spread of COVID-19. The affidavit filed on August 7 can be found here. This research lends further support to the CDC’s order of an eviction moratorium: evictions during an epidemic harm public health.

Discussion of the ongoing research can be found here: