Update August 26: The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked the recent order extending the federal eviction moratorium

The CDC issued a new eviction moratorium order to prevent further spread of COVID-19. The looming evictions for people who have not been able to pay rent are a public health crisis that may disproportionately affect people of color. The time is right to address systemic racism and repeal barriers that lead to income and housing inequities.

We know that where people live is an important social determinant of health. Stable and affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, and homes that do not expose people to toxins or injury all contribute to healthy outcomes. Systemic racism, including redlining, has contributed to disparities in where people live and what they can afford. Black, Native American, and Hispanic households are more likely than white households to be low-income renters.

The pandemic contributed to unstable housing for many low-wage workers who have been out of work. Non-essential businesses were shut down in March 2020, with low-wage workers in restaurants and bars the most affected by shutdowns. Unemployment status reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. According to census bureau data, Black and Latino workers were more likely to lose income or employment during the pandemic.

In late January 2021, 21% of renters reported being behind on rent payments. Renters of color are more likely to be behind on rent, with 29% of Latino renters and 36% of Black renters  behind on rent, compared to 12% of White renters. The Eviction Lab reports that landlords have filed for over 450,000 evictions during the pandemic, and those affected will be the same communities and individuals who were at risk of eviction prior to the pandemic – disproportionately Black and Latino. There is already a severe shortage of affordable rental homes in the United States, and the upcoming evictions will result in homelessness for many of those evicted and make it more difficult for them to obtain housing in the future.

After the previous order expired on July 31, the CDC issued a new eviction moratorium order for tenants who fail to make rent or housing payments, limited to counties reporting substantial and high levels of community transmission levels of COVID-19. This order ensures tenants do not have to relocate to congregate settings such as shelters or shared housing situations where it is not possible to maintain safe social distancing. The CDC asserts that mass evictions could be detrimental to public health control measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. A study in 2020 found an association between the expiration of eviction moratoriums and increased COVID-19 incidence and mortality.

The CDC order remains at risk, as the Supreme Court ruled in June that the CDC had “exceeded its statutory authority by issuing a nationwide eviction moratorium”, but ruled to leave the moratorium in place until July 31 as initially planned. It is expected that this new CDC order will be challenged.

The question is what will happen when the new eviction order expires. This looming public health crisis further exposes the lack of affordable housing for low-income workers and the importance of rental assistance. There are still billions of dollars available for emergency rental assistance that have not been distributed. We need additional emergency rental assistance covering past and future months of rent to prevent mass evictions.

The American Public Health Association has reported on how structural racism has led to disparities in health and housing equity and offers the following solutions:

  1. Prevent structural racism
  2. Increase affordability
  3. Advance quality & safety
  4. Support neighborhoods
  5. Ensure stability

As the threat of COVID-19 continues, the time is right to address systemic racism and repeal barriers that lead to income and housing inequities.