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COVID-19 Evictions Are Causing a Ripple Effect of Health Problems

Woman moving out of home.

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Key Takeaways

  • By the end of 2020, an estimated 30 to 40 million people in the U.S. could be evicted. 
  • In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order to halt evictions until December 31.
  • According to research, eviction is related to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and psychological stress. 

Alexia Zakariya, a Pennsylvania stay-at-home mom of two kids, received a note on her door on October 28: “Notice To Terminate Tenancy.”

Zakariya and her family are being evicted by their landlord.

Like millions of Americans who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, Zakariya and her husband are struggling to stay afloat and pay rent. “When COVID-19 hit, we started getting behind,” Zakariya tells Verywell. She says she owes back rent up to $9,100. 

Research from August found that 30 to 40 million people are at risk of being evicted by the end of 2020 due to high unemployment rates brought on by COVID-19. On September 4, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a moratorium to temporarily halt residential evictions effective from September 4 to December 31, 2020.

The order protects tenants who:

  • Have used their best efforts to obtain government assistance for housing
  • Are unable to pay their full rent due to a substantial loss of income
  • Are making their best efforts to make timely partial payments of rent
  • Would become homeless or have to move into a shared living setting if they were to be evicted

In addition to the above requirements, one of the following financial criteria must apply. To qualify for protection, tenants must:

  • Expect to earn no more than $99,000 (individuals) or $198,000 (filing joint tax return) in 2020
  • Not have been required to report any income to the IRS in 2019
  • Have received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) pursuant to Section 2201 of the CARES Act

Each state institutes its own policies to protect renters beyond these recent federal protections. In some states, those halts on evictions expired at the end of the summer, like in Pennsylvania where Zakariya is currently located.

Evictions can lead to the spread of COVID-19 when people are displaced and can no longer quarantine or isolate in their homes. Evictions can also potentially worsen existing mental health problems for many renters across the U.S.

What This Means For You

If you or someone you know is experiencing eviction, you are not alone. You may be protected under the CDC's order. Resources are also available at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) website. Resources differ by state. 

How Evictions Can Exacerbate COVID-19

The CDC says halting evictions can be a powerful public health measure utilized to help prevent the spread of disease. The moratorium was put in place because housing stability would allow people to isolate and quarantine, according to the CDC. This policy also makes it easier to implement stay-at-home directives from state and local authorities.

Without housing, individuals are more likely to become homeless and congregate in spaces with large crowds such as homeless shelters, putting others at higher risk for contracting COVID-19. As homelessness increases, shelters become overwhelmed and can't implement safe social distancing or infection control measures. Meanwhile, unsheltered homelessness increases an individual's likelihood of experiencing a severe case of COVID-19.

How Does Eviction Impact Mental Health and Wellbeing? 

According to Ari Kalechstein, PhD, CEO and president of Executive Mental Health (EMH) in California and Nevada, the U.S. is in the midst of an economic downturn.

“People are struggling to make ends meet," Kalechstein tells Verywell. "They are struggling to pay their rent, a mortgage. Housing instability is associated with mental health problems."

The unemployment rate reached 14.7% in April, and the annual poverty rate is projected to reach 10.9% in 2020.

Despite the CDC’s moratorium guidelines, Zakariya's landlord moved forward with the eviction. Zakariya says the prospect of losing her home has worsened her mental health.

“I already have depression, anxiety, and mental health issues. I was in a mental hospital twice,” Zakariya says. “I just wasn’t in a good headspace.

As a result, she's stopped attending her college classes.

“I was in honors, doing really well, until all the stress with a pandemic and the landlord happened,” Zakariya says. “I can’t focus on school. My mental health is affected by these conditions.” 

Research shows she's not alone. Being evicted or losing the legal right to your home is related to higher risks of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress. 

Eviction can cause a higher risk for mental health disorders because it leads to a lack of control over key aspects of daily living and feelings of insecurity, isolation, and embarrassment. 

Stressors from eviction and foreclosure can also disrupt familial relationships. “It’s been causing me and my husband to argue with all this stress,” Zakariya says. 

According to Michael Brodsky, MD, L.A. Care Health Plan’s medical director for behavioral health and social services in Los Angeles, eviction should be considered a traumatic and stress-inducing experience. “Eviction takes a while. There is a summons process and the court date," Brodsky tells Verywell. "It can cause a prolonged period of intense stress."

What Can You Do if You Are Facing Eviction?

  • Check federal and state assistance programs for resources. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides COVID-19-related resources for renters here
  • You can seek assistance from a legal aid program or private legal counsel.
  • Tenant rights vary by state—research your rights as a renter.

How to Support Those Experiencing Eviction

Kalechstein suggests that altering policies could be the way forward to support individuals experiencing eviction. “It’s really incumbent upon our policymakers, politicians, the president to understand that eviction is the catalyst for so many detrimental outcomes in our society," Kalechstein says. "To the extent that we can step in, create the policies to help people get back on their feet.

You can personally support people experiencing eviction by referring them to resources. Resources for renters by state are available through HUD. For renters experiencing financial insecurity from COVID-19, HUD may be able to provide counselors who can help with unemployment, nutritional assistance, non-legal support in communicating with landlords, federal and state housing assistance, and more. 

“Communities where people can find safe and affordable housing [benefit] all of us," Brodsky says. "Not only because it’s good for the individuals who are housed, but it’s good for public health, for epidemiology, and for the economy as a whole."

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Article Sources
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  1. The Aspen Institute. The COVID-19 Eviction Crisis: an Estimate 30-40 Million People in America Are at Risk. Updated August 7, 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HHS/CDC Temporary Halt In Residential Evictions To Prevent The Further Spread of COVID-19. Updated October 9, 2020.

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of the Assistant Secretary of Planning and Evaluation. Predictions of Poverty and Program Eligibility During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Updated October 16, 2020.

  4. Vásquez-Vera H, Palència L, Magna I, Mena C, Neira J, Borrell C. The threat of home eviction and its effects on health through the equity lens: A systematic review. Soc Sci Med. 2017;175:199-208. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.01.010