By Katie Moran-McCabe and Scott Burris, The New England Journal of Medicine, October 14, 2021
Safe, affordable housing is a foundation of good health; it is essential to people’s ability to thrive in school and work and necessary for building strong families and communities. Housing markets and policies in the United States have failed to supply enough affordable, healthy housing, and they address housing shortages with perhaps the cruelest and most inequitable of legal practices: eviction. Princeton University’s Eviction Lab estimates that landlords file 3.7 million eviction cases each year, which results in too many people being forced from their homes by a sheriff. Other families move on their own after an eviction threat, since an eviction filing would substantially hinder their future housing searches. The Covid-19 pandemic both highlighted eviction as a public health crisis and exacerbated the problem. Governments responded with eviction moratoriums. Now, as these federal, state, and local reprieves expire or are overturned by courts, early research indicates an association between a return of evictions and more Covid-19 cases and deaths.
Eviction has direct effects on health, including increased hospitalization rates among children and increased depression and anxiety among adults.2 Eviction also impairs the health and social connectedness of communities. When there is high turnover in a neighborhood, residents are less likely to feel invested in their community and the community’s capacity to thrive and to offer a supportive living environment is weakened. There are also eviction-related costs to organizations providing emergency services, since people who experience homelessness or who move to unsafe dwellings are more likely to use emergency medical, food, and other services than people with stable housing arrangements.