Eviction protections could have cut COVID-19 deaths by 40.7%, study finds

Dhara Singh
·Reporter
·5 min read

If eviction protections had been in place nationwide for much of the pandemic, the number of deaths from COVID-19 would have been drastically reduced, according to new study. The number of infections, too, would be smaller.

Policies limiting evictions during the pandemic reduced Covid-19 deaths by 11% and infections by 8% in the U.S. from March through November last year, according to the report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which tracked county-level data.

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But had those moratoriums been implemented in every county in the U.S., infections would have been cut by 14.2% and deaths by 40.7% during that time. That averages out to 395 infections and 32 deaths that could have been prevented per county.

Sandra Cruz, who lost her job because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, and fell four months behind on her rent and is fearing eviction, and her daughter Gabriella wait for a ride after picking up free groceries distributed by the Chelsea Collaborative in Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S., July 22, 2020.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sandra Cruz, who lost her job because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, and fell four months behind on her rent and is fearing eviction, and her daughter Gabriella wait for a ride after picking up free groceries distributed by the Chelsea Collaborative in Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S., July 22, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

“The effect of policy changes isn’t necessarily only reducing deaths today, but reducing the chances of infections you’ll see in two weeks,” said Kay Jowers, a senior policy associate at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environment Policy Solutions, and a researcher of the study. “Our findings are robust because we look at the temporal lags in the neighboring counties as well.”

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The study might help inform future policies. It comes shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended a federal eviction moratorium to March 31 — following President Joe Biden’s executive action — but further extensions may be needed to reduce the infection rate while the pandemic remains.

“Unfortunately the findings aren’t surprising as the pandemic has exposed broadly to this country the reality of housing insecurity for families,” said Michael Anderson, housing lead at Community Change, an activist organization. “The moratorium is insufficient as it should extend to the end of the pandemic until the public health crisis is complete.”

Taylor Wood sits on the couch in her Corvallis, Ore., apartment on Dec. 11, 2020. The Oregon native, who is 10 weeks pregnant, has not been able to get much sleep as she stresses about finances during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Sara Cline)
Taylor Wood sits on the couch in her Corvallis, Ore., apartment on Dec. 11, 2020. The Oregon native, who is 10 weeks pregnant, has not been able to get much sleep as she stresses about finances during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Sara Cline)

‘How many more deaths are we committing?’

Between 7 million and 14.2 million renter households remain at risk of evictions once the moratorium lifts. The risk disproportionately hits Black and Hispanic Americans more, according to a recent study by the Brookings Institution.

Evictions can prevent individuals and families from practicing social distancing measures and quarantine recommendations. People forced out of their homes may turn to crowded homeless shelters or double or triple up with other households, increasing their exposure to possible infection.

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“We need to protect families, but for the vast majority, this is a public health issue where we all need a safe place to call home,” Anderson said. “If you don’t time this moratorium ending, then how many more deaths are we committing?”

Jenn Katchmark, of Washington, holds up an eviction sign intended for Pres. Donald Trump while walking through Black Lives Matter Plaza, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Jenn Katchmark, of Washington, holds up an eviction sign intended for Pres. Donald Trump while walking through Black Lives Matter Plaza, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The study also quantified how moratoriums on utility shut-offs also helped to curb COVID-19 infections and deaths. Protections from utility disconnections reduced infections by 4.4% and deaths nationwide by 7.4%.

Utility shut-offs and the financial strains resulting from it — penalties, deposits, and fees — are precursors to eviction, according to the study, while safe and reliable water and heat access are critical for maintaining health, especially during a pandemic.

“A stop on having to pay for water and electricity will prevent households from tipping over,” Jowers said, who also expressed the need for further utility aid. “People need to have access to pay for these essential services.”

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No national moratorium on utility disconnections is in place, but $25 billion of the $900 billion stimulus bill passed in December goes to relief for evictions and to cover utility costs. Biden’s recent $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal calls for an additional $5 billion for renters to pay their utility bills.

“When we ensure that everyone can access stable housing, we are making a long-term investment in people’s health, and thus the resilience of our communities,” said Renee Williams, senior staff attorney at the National Housing Law Project, a legal advocacy center for housing rights. “Stopping evictions and utility shut-offs during the pandemic is not just good public policy, but it is a necessary public health measure to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

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Dhara Singh is a reporter at Cashay and Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @Dsinghx.

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