Eviction Solutions Require Cross-Sector Policy

Since 2021, most COVID-related eviction moratoria have lifted, and the pace of evictions—and their consequences—has picked up as a result.

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Eviction is a serious public health problem. Contributing factors include lack of affordable housing, gentrification, and racial and ethnic discrimination. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 3.6 million households in the U.S. were evicted or involuntarily displaced annually. Early in the pandemic, the economic downturn led to a wave of job losses and financial hardship, putting in jeopardy many households’ ability to pay their rent, resulting in their risk of eviction.

Public health leaders were concerned that evictions could displace millions of people into crowded, doubled-up housing or shelters at a time when social distancing was essential. In turn, city and state governments, and eventually the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, enacted measures that prevented landlords from filing eviction court orders with eviction moratoria. Since 2021, most COVID-related eviction moratoria have lifted and the pace of evictions (and their consequences) has picked up. The latest national estimates suggest more than 10,000 evictions were filed in the week of February 26 alone.

Eviction harms maternal health during pregnancy and in the period after childbirth. It is also associated with a multitude of poor health outcomes for people of all ages, from infants to seniors. The relationship between eviction and health is likely bi-directional. Poor health can lead to eviction through work disruption and loss of income, while eviction shapes poor health through stress and displacement from social support, including health care. Most research focuses on formal, court-involved evictions, which typically remain on the renter’s record for five years. Court data, however, underestimate the real magnitude of evictions. Many families experience informal evictions – when landlords force families to move without court involvement. Since such evictions are not tracked in any system, less is known about their impact on health and wellbeing.

To better understand the full extent of formal and informal evictions on families with children, we surveyed 26,000 pairs of parents and young children under age four in five U.S. cities between 2011 and 2019. We asked parents whether the family had experienced a formal or informal eviction within the last five years, as well as questions about health and their ability to afford basic needs.

Families who had been evicted were more likely to struggle to afford all of their basic needs, including child care, in turn making it difficult for parents to work or study.

Four percent of parents reported that they had been evicted in the last five years – double the national rate of reported evictions. Approximately half of the evictions were informal, suggesting that most national estimates greatly underestimate the magnitude of the problem. Regardless of eviction type, children whose families were evicted from their homes were much more likely to be in poor health and at risk of developmental delays compared to children whose families had not been evicted. They were also more likely to require admission to the hospital. Families who had been evicted were more likely to struggle to afford all of their basic needs, including child care, in turn making it difficult for parents to work or study.

Unlike formal evictions, which involve an often-lengthy legal process and are listed in public records, informal evictions vary in predictability and may cause sudden, catastrophic displacement for families, forcing them to accept housing no matter its condition or location. While future landlords are unable to use court filings to look up previous informal evictions, the impact of such an eviction may still make it difficult for families to subsequently rent because most landlords request references from previous landlords.

Our work supports and adds to prior research following families for two years after an eviction, which documented difficulty meeting family needs and persisting health problems for children and mothers (including maternal depression).

Advocates and policymakers can use the evidence demonstrating the connections between eviction and a range of specific challenges including health care and child care to design interventions and policy. It is critical that state and federal governments make large investments in 1) a permanent fund for emergency assistance for rent and utility payments, 2) rental assistance, and 3) dramatically increasing the availability of safe, decent, affordable housing. Furthermore, investments in boosting cash resources to families and expanding access to quality, affordable child care, Medicaid, and other essential services are vital for helping families avoid eviction.

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