Evictions have cascading effects, and researchers have found they could be fatal during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new study draws the connection between a lack of stable housing and an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Researchers at University of California, Johns Hopkins University, Boston University and Wake Forest University looked at the incidence of COVID cases and mortality from March until the CDC enacted a national eviction moratorium in early September.
Across the country, they found that states lifting eviction moratoriums resulted in 433,700 more COVID cases and 10,700 more deaths over the course of the study period.
The data show states in the Mountain West that allowed eviction protections to expire during the study period saw a surge in cases and deaths. Those states include Colorado, Utah and Idaho. New Mexico, Nevada and Montana were part of the comparison group that kept moratoriums in place during the study period. Wyoming, meanwhile, did not enact eviction protections and was excluded from the study.
Kathryn Leifheit, University of California epidemiologist and lead researcher on the study, was encouraged when states started implementing eviction moratoriums at the onset of the pandemic.
“I thought, this is great and so forward-thinking — to put protections in place to make sure that people stay housed during this pandemic,” she said.
But then states began lifting protections one by one, and that alarmed Leifheit and her colleagues. They rushed to release the study, which is not yet peer-reviewed, before the CDC’s moratorium expires at the end of the year. While thousands have still been evicted with the moratorium in place, it has acted as an important stopgap measure for other housing insecure people, she said.
“The main message that we're trying to get across is that moratoriums do have a strong public health rationale and they can work to prevent COVID cases and deaths,” Leifheit said. “So we would love to see the federal moratorium extended beyond December 31.”
Leifheit studies how evictions affect health in a number of ways — in particular, children’s chronic health conditions. She says the pandemic is forcing dialogue about the inextricable link between housing and health and how marginalized groups are disproportionately affected.
One finding from the study that caught Leifheit’s attention: The effects on deaths were stronger than the effects on cases. That points to some of those disparities, she said.
“One way we explain that is, potentially the cases that are arising out of these eviction moratoriums lifting are people that, maybe, are sicker to begin with," she said. "So people that have comorbidities or poor access to health care.”
Leifheit says that tracks with what researchers already know about who's at risk of eviction: “Specifically, Black and Latino households really face a disproportionate risk.”
The U.S. was facing a serious housing crisis before the pandemic, Leifheit said. “But I think, like many social issues, the pandemic has shed light on how deep these social fissures are and people are talking about it.”
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.