Evictions are deadly during a pandemic, research shows
AUSTIN, Texas (Dec. 16, 2020) — In central Texas, as in so many communities across the country, the looming expiration of the CDC’s eviction moratorium means thousands of families could face housing insecurity in the new year.
In addition to the financial effects and long-term barriers to accessing housing an eviction creates, new research highlights the health risks of evictions happening during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers spent months studying eviction moratoriums in 44 states. During the study period, 27 of those moratoriums expired, including here in Texas. This allowed the researchers to estimate the effects these expirations had on public health, including how they impacted the virus’ spread and deaths associated with COVID-19. The results are published in this preprint paper, meaning it has not yet been peer-reviewed. The authors felt the need to publish their findings before the review process as a matter of public health.
It’s easy to see why.
Researchers were able to link 433,700 excess COVID-19 cases and 10,700 excess deaths to the expirations of these 27 eviction moratoriums. That’s equivalent to almost half the population of Austin that wouldn’t have contracted the virus and about the population of Elgin who wouldn’t have died if states, including Texas, hadn’t lifted their moratoriums.
What’s the connection between evictions and COVID-19?
One of the researchers, Gabe Schwartz, explained during a panel hosted by Texas Housers on Tuesday that not only did eviction moratoriums protect individuals, they “also protected the communities that those people are part of.”
People who are evicted, he explained, are more likely to double-up with other families or spend time at a congregate emergency shelter, both of which increase the close interactions between people that lead to increased community spread of the virus.
Texas, Schwartz explained, accounted for 2 in 5 of those excess deaths (41.6%, or nearly 4,500 total), and 1 in 3 of the excess cases (34.2%, or nearly 150,000 total).
“It’s a very large number of people, and an even larger number of families and communities that are affected by that suffering,” he said.
Research linking evictions and emergency shelter in New York City reinforce this reasoning. Findings from researchers Robert Collinson and Davin Reed “suggest that evictions increase the probability of applying to homeless shelter by 14 percentage points,” the authors write, “and increase the share of days spent in shelter during the two years after filing by 5 percentage points, or about 36 days.”
Collinson and Reed also found long-lasting effects on people who are evicted, not just in the immediate aftermath. Their results suggest “avoiding eviction does not simply delay an inevitable bout of homelessness, but rather leads to a lasting difference in the odds of experiencing homelessness.”
Taken together, these two studies indicate people who face eviction are more likely to seek assistance from a congregate emergency resource, and are therefore more likely to spread the coronavirus, leading to thousands of preventable deaths.
What can we do?
Local protections exist for renters in some places around the state, including in Austin and Travis County, but not for everyone. If the CDC moratorium is not extended past the end of the year, this research indicates Texas renters are in trouble medically and may be at increased risk of experiencing homelessness.
The federal government must extend a uniform moratorium to prevent people from being evicted during the pandemic. ECHO joined more than a thousand organizations across the country in signing a letter from the National Low Income Housing Coalition to urge lawmakers to act.
But an eviction moratorium is not enough. Renters will still owe back rent, and property owners need to be able to pay their own bills. Congress must pass additional COVID-19 relief, including billions in direct assistance to renters to keep them stably housed. Use these resources to tell your elected officials you don’t want to see people evicted in your community.
And use these resources from our partners at Family Eldercare to tell Governor Abbott to spend Texas’ unspent billions of dollars in CARES Act funds on direct rental assistance. Without both an extension of the eviction moratorium and resources to help families pay back rent, our community and our country face a new wave of homelessness and, this new research makes clear, a new wave of COVID-19.
This is preventable, but we must act now.