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Eviction, Health Inequity, and the Spread of COVID-19: Housing Policy as a Primary Pandemic Mitigation Strategy

Emily A. Benfer, David Vlahov, Marissa Y. Long, Evan Walker-Wells, J. L. Pottenger Jr., Gregg Gonsalves & Danya E. Keene


The COVID-19 pandemic precipitated catastrophic job loss, unprecedented unemployment rates, and severe economic hardship in renter households. As a result, housing precarity and the risk of eviction increased and worsened during the pandemic, especially among people of color and low-income populations. This paper considers the implications of this eviction crisis for health and health inequity, and the need for eviction prevention policies during the pandemic. Eviction and housing displacement are particularly threatening to individual and public health during a pandemic. Eviction is likely to increase COVID-19 infection rates because it results in overcrowded living environments, doubling up, transiency, limited access to healthcare, and a decreased ability to comply with pandemic mitigation strategies (e.g., social distancing, self-quarantine, and hygiene practices). Indeed, recent studies suggest that eviction may increase the spread of COVID-19 and that the absence or lifting of eviction moratoria may be associated with an increased rate of COVID-19 infection and death. Eviction is also a driver of health inequity as historic trends, and recent data demonstrate that people of color are more likely to face eviction and associated comorbidities. Black people have had less confidence in their ability to pay rent and are dying at 2.1 times the rate of non-Hispanic Whites. Indigenous Americans and Hispanic/Latinx people face an infection rate almost 3 times the rate of non-Hispanic whites. Disproportionate rates of both COVID-19 and eviction in communities of color compound negative health effects make eviction prevention a critical intervention to address racial health inequity. In light of the undisputed connection between eviction and health outcomes, eviction prevention, through moratoria and other supportive measures, is a key component of pandemic control strategies to mitigate COVID-19 spread and death.

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