Study: COVID Infections, Deaths Increase When Eviction Moratoriums End

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Demonstrators stand in front of Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose on the morning of Jan. 27, 2021, demanding stronger eviction protections in California. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The number of COVID-19 infections and deaths "increased dramatically" after states lifted eviction moratoriums last year, according to a new study from UCLA.

Most states banned evictions at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic to help those unable to pay rent due to lost wages. But last summer, many renters across the country who were still out of work were forced to move out when those rental protections expired.

Coronavirus cases doubled and deaths attributable to the disease jumped fivefold over a four-month period last year following the end of many state moratoriums, the study found.

"Preventing evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic should be part of our public health toolkit," Kathryn Leifheit, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and a lead author of the study, said in an interview with KCRW.

With vaccination rates flagging across the country, Leifheit said housing remains a powerful safeguard against contracting the virus.

"Basically, being at home, being able to shelter in place and socially distance is really one of our main tools to prevent the spread of COVID. So anything that we can do to keep people housed, as long as this virus is still circulating, is really important in terms of preventing illness and death." Leifheit said.


Researchers analyzed data from the 43 states — and Washington, D.C. — that had enacted eviction moratoriums. In 27 of them, those protections expired before September 2020.

During the period between March 2020 and September 2020, states that allowed their eviction moratoriums to expire had 433,700 more COVID-19 cases and 10,700 more deaths than they would have had they maintained their moratoriums, the researchers found when comparing rates before and after.

The expiration of eviction moratoriums can lead to increased COVID infections in a number of ways, the study's authors noted, citing previous research that said "evictions lead to doubling up, transiency, crowded housing, and entry into homeless shelters, each of which connote increased risk of exposure to COVID-19."

"Robust, vigorously enforced moratoriums are essential to protect against eviction-related spread of COVID-19," the researchers wrote. "At the same time, to control the COVID-19 pandemic, we need policies to stem the tide of evictions expected once these moratoriums expire."

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The authors acknowledged there are limitations to the study. For example, some local eviction bans remained in place despite state moratoriums being lifted, and researchers couldn’t account for that data.

Still, the findings come as the current federal eviction and foreclosure protections — which went into effect on Sept. 4, 2020, as many statewide moratoriums ended — are set to expire this month. The Biden administration announced Thursday that it will allow the nationwide ban to expire Saturday, arguing that its hands are tied after the U.S. Supreme Court signaled the moratorium could only be extended until the end of the month.

California has its own, more robust, eviction moratorium, which is set to expire on Sept. 30, unless state lawmakers extend it.

By the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And as of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

KCRW's Benjamin Gottlieb contributed to this report. Reporting from the Associated Press was also used.