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Millions of people across the country were at risk of being put out of their homes after the federal eviction moratorium expired. In addition to the threat of eviction, surges in COVID-19 cases raised additional concerns among some experts and advocates for those in areas with high infection rates.
At least 6.9 million households were behind on their rent as of late June, according to US Census data cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and leaving renters in limbo became a flashpoint for progressive lawmakers. The White House came under fire from some like Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri, who in a five-day sleep-in outside of the Capitol, Bush called for President Joe Biden to “save lives.”
Three days after the moratorium expired, the CDC announced a new eviction ban aimed at temporarily providing relief for 90% of renters who live in areas with high levels of COVID-19 infections. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement Tuesday called the moratorium “the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads.”
The new order is likely saving lives, as a study from the American Journal of Epidemiology published in July highlighted the link between expired eviction moratoriums and increased risk of COVID-19 infection. Dr. Amira Roess, a professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at George Mason University, told Insider that the new ban could help avoid new infections and mass evictions at this point would “further contribute to already rising caseload.”
“Mass evictions could easily translate into tens of thousands of individuals having to move in with others, possibly into extreme crowding conditions that as we know fuel transmission or inundating shelters many of which already have long waitlists,” Roess told Insider.
Over the course of the last year, public health authorities have emphasized social distancing from those who don’t live in your household as a key strategy aimed at preventing new COVID-19 cases.
“Mass evictions directly contradict this message and make it impossible for individuals to follow these guidelines,” Roess said.
Those most vulnerable to the virus are also the group most affected when the eviction moratorium ceases. Women, people of color, and low-income households will face the most challenges when that time comes, Insider’s Yelena Dzhanova previously reported.
For 28-year-old Crystal Rivera, holding on to housing in Philadelphia during the pandemic has been difficult. Like many other Americans, she lost her job during the pandemic and had to receive unemployment. Rivera was eventually told in June that she and her family — including her children, mother, and grandmother — had to leave their home because her landlord didn’t think her income was reliable and wanted to rent out the home to someone new.
Rivera told Insider she was faced with the emotional burden of dealing with not only their eviction, but also temporarily separating from her children until she obtained stable housing.
“It was very scary not to know where you’re going to go. So I was staying with a family member, and I’ll sleep in on his sofa, having three kids and being pregnant with my fourth child,” Rivera told Insider. “It was the worst. I would cry every day. And I just kept trying to think positive, but you can’t think positive in a situation like that.”
The overwhelming emotional toll of eviction puts poses a higher risk of illness, Roess said.
“The mental health toll on individuals facing eviction cannot be understated,” Roess said. “Individuals facing eviction are already under extreme stress, and the increase in stress makes them more vulnerable to more severe disease.”
Things turned around in July after she was referred to the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (Poor People’s Army) and secured a place to stay.
The eviction ban is only an extension and is set to expire on October 3. The order also only applies to counties with “high” COVID-19 transmission rates and is void when the areas remain at “controllable levels for 14 consecutive days,” Insider previously reported.
Poor People’s Army founder, Cheri Honkala, told Insider the temporary measure amid looming housing pressure across the US is “just like putting a finger in the dam.”
“Anything is better than nothing, and it might save some people, but it’s just extending it. This dam is going to break. I mean, it’s going to be a combination,” Honkala continued. “So you’re going to have the unemployment end in September, you’ll have tons of jobs that have been replaced by robotics, and you have the ending of the moratorium on evictions.”
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