Signs lay on the floor after people gathered outside an apartment complex to stop the alleged eviction of one of the tenants in Mount Rainier, MD, the United States, on August 10, 2020.
Leah Millis | Reuters
One of the main ways that state and local governments have tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus is by giving instructions on how to stay at home.
However, for tens of thousands of Americans displaced during the pandemic, it is next to impossible to seek refuge.
And the situation could soon worsen significantly for many more. At the end of the month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national eviction moratorium will expire, and landlords are free to evict their tenants.
Without additional government intervention, many families will spend their vacation this year figuring out where to go if they are evicted. More than 12 million Americans – or one in six adult renters – were behind on their rent in November. The situation is sure to get worse as unemployment claims this week have been at their highest level in months.
Aside from the devastating personal and financial consequences of evacuating an individual, one report shows displaced people and families are increasing the spread of the virus.
Before the CDC stopped evictions across the country in September, 43 states had enacted their own eviction moratoriums. However, many of the stays lasted a maximum of 10 weeks. North Dakota and Iowa, for example, only dropped the case for about a month.
The researchers found that states that allowed their eviction moratoriums to expire caused 433,700 cases of Covid and 10,700 additional deaths between March and September.
CNBC spoke to two authors on the study, Kathryn Leifheit, an epidemiologist and postdoctoral fellow at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and Dr. Craig Pollack, Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. We discussed what their findings might tell about what will happen if the CDC’s national eviction ban expires and what should be done to keep families in their homes during the public health crisis.
CNBC: What are the reasons that the displacement of individuals and families is increasing the spread of the virus?
Kathryn Leifheit: We know that the crowd in the household is a major risk factor for the spread of the coronavirus. When people are displaced, they often have to move in with friends and family or enter a homeless shelter. This increases the number of contacts people have and allows Covid to spread more easily.
CNBC: Which states have had the highest number of cases and deaths related to the eviction of Covid? Why was it worse in these places?
KL: We have seen the highest number of cases and deaths related to the lifting of the eviction moratorium in Texas, where we estimate nearly 150,000 cases and 4,500 deaths. Two main factors contribute to this: the population – states with more people can develop more cases and deaths – and the date the moratorium was lifted. Lifting earlier can process more evictions, and moving it can increase the risk of Covid.
CNBC: The federal government decided in September to stop evictions across the country, but that moratorium expires at the end of the month. What do you expect if no additional measures are taken?
Craig Pollack: The economic toll from Covid has been relentless and experts predict an avalanche of evictions once the federal moratorium expires. Our research suggests that this will be linked to a large number of cases and deaths that could potentially be avoided if the moratorium persists.
The economic toll from COVID has been relentless, and experts predict an avalanche of evictions when the federal moratorium expires.
CNBC: If the federal government is doing everything it can to end the pandemic, what kind of housing policies should it implement?
KL: In the short term, we need a strong federal eviction moratorium that extends until the end of the public health emergency. Congress should also deal with rent relief, so that if the moratorium is lifted, tenants and landlords have the opportunity to settle rent back and prevent a mass wave of evictions.
CNBC: I know the two of you researched the relationship between housing and health before the pandemic. Aside from the risk of infecting and spreading Covid, what are some of the other consequences that displaced people are often exposed to?
KL: Most of my research to date has been into the effects of eviction on children’s health and development. We have found that if a pregnant mother is evicted, she is more likely to give birth to a baby that is either premature or of low birth weight. When children are displaced, the likelihood of food insecurity and lead poisoning is higher. They are also more likely to fall cognitively behind.
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