With Eviction Moratorium’s End, Negative Health Outcomes of Rising Evictions Soar
On August 26, 2021, the federal eviction moratorium ended, placing millions of Americans at risk of eviction and the negative health outcomes that have been shown to often follow. In those states that did not continue their own eviction moratorium, the risk of contracting COVID-19 was 1.39 times greater within five weeks of the moratorium end, than during the moratorium. Within 12 weeks of the moratorium’s end, people living in low-income areas, communities with a high rent burden, and people with co-morbidities faced higher risks of contacting COVID-19 at 2.14,2.31, and 2.37 times greater, respectively, than if the moratorium had continued. The end of eviction protection has far-reaching health consequences for all.
Loss of Housing and Adverse Health Outcomes
Eviction, at all stages (i.e., being served an eviction notice, being evicted, and having a prior eviction), negatively affects the health of children and adults. While eviction is often perceived as an issue that only affects adults, in reality, families with children are at high risk for eviction in this country. Eviction is linked with poor maternal health outcomes, including low birthweight, prematurity, and infant mortality. Children of evicted families face education disruptions due to repeated school switching. Prior evictions have been linked with increased hospitalizations during childhood.
Adults facing eviction experience their own significant challenges. Eviction is associated with worse self-reported health, poor caregiver health and depression. Rates of drug use and relapse increase after eviction. Evicted adults have worse mental health, higher rates of mental health hospitalization, and higher suicide mortality than their non-evicted counterparts do. For people living with HIV/AIDS, an eviction increases the likeliness of having a detectable viral load. Chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, become harder to manage when facing housing instability, which increases the likelihood of nerve damage, strokes, and heart attacks. Eviction is associated with increased emergency department visits.
Eviction affects individuals and families, but also has a larger societal impact. Counties that have higher eviction rates report higher rates of accidental deaths due to drugs and alcohol. Evictions are linked to an increase in overcrowding, transiency, and doubled–up households (one or more adults living in a home in addition to the head of household and spouse or partner). In the current pandemic landscape, this translates to limited ability to socially distance, self-quarantine, and practice regular hygiene. These conditions increase evicted families’ exposure to COVID. Eviction is linked to increased COVID morbidity and mortality.
Housing as Prevention
A home is much more than the structure that protects one from the elements. It is also the place that helps maintain a healthy life. Safe housing provides a place for people to store their food, medications and medical supplies. Access to clean, running water allows people to care for their personal hygiene and prevent illnesses. Access to electricity can be essential to those dependent on medical equipment, as well as for communication with health care providers and others. Adequate living space, free of overcrowding, limits the transmission of communicable diseases, including COVID. The disruptions after eviction can make storage, clean water, and adequate living space difficult to access. Without storage, medications are easy to lose, hard to keep at the proper temperature, and more likely to be taken inconsistently. Clean water is vital for handwashing, bathing, hydration, cooking, and cleaning. Eviction rips these necessities away from people and forces them into a cycle of uncertainty that has lasting repercussions for their physical and mental health.
Supporting Households at Risk of Eviction
Throughout the country, there are counties and states that have protections in place for households at risk of eviction. As these extended protections come to an end, it is important to think about the future of eviction prevention. Evictions are not a new phenomenon, but without policy changes, evictions and their resulting negative health outcomes will continue to impair people’s lives. The following recommendations range in the time that they take to implement. However, each of them would increase housing stability now and in the future.
Expand local rental assistance programs. Community-based organizations, places of worship, organizing groups, and hospitals and health systems provide rental assistance and, at times, housing subsidies. Collaborate and expand community partnerships in order to reach more households in need of rental assistance.
Build more affordable housing. From 2001 to 2017, rents rose faster than incomes for all socioeconomic levels. Approximately half of all renters are rent-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income for rent. For people who have a low income, the burden is even starker, at more than 50%. Affordable housing reduces rent-burden and the risk of potential eviction.
Pay livable wages. Approximately half of Americans lived paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic. During the pandemic, this rose to nearly two-thirds. Wages in the United States have failed to increase at the rate needed to live a comfortable life that is not financially burdened. Livable wages would relieve rent burden for millions of people and serve as a protective health factor.
Evictions pose a long-lasting threat to the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and society at large. In order to boost health protective factors, reduce chronic conditions, and move toward health equity, it is vitally important that policymakers at all levels look to these and other solutions to increase housing stability. The Build Better Act has the potential to provide security for millions by lowering housing costs, providing tax cuts for workers, and creating more jobs. It is time to pass the Build Better Act to prevent evictions and protect the health of the nation.