Renters Facing Eviction Have a Higher Chance of Dying

The threat of eviction can have detrimental impacts on health and increase the risk of mortality, which was significantly higher for those facing eviction during the pandemic, new research has found.

Housing instability is associated with worsened health outcomes and is considered a serious public health issue, but those who faced the threat of eviction during the first two years of the pandemic experienced even worse outcomes than normal: a mortality rate that was roughly twice as high as expected.

This reality is outlined in new research from the Eviction Lab and the United States Census Bureau, published in JAMA Network Open Tuesday, which found that the risk of death for renters facing eviction during the pandemic was 2.6 times greater than it was for the general population. In comparison, between 2010 and 2016, the risk was 1.4 times higher for those facing eviction than the general population.

“Housing instability and eviction are likely to exact a toll on health across the life course through numerous pathways, including through stress and disruptions in health care access,” the study authors wrote. “This, in turn, may exacerbate chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, which are among the leading causes of death in the US and the largest contributors to racial inequalities in mortality.”

Using data collected through the Eviction Tracking System (ETS) from 36 court systems covering roughly 338 counties, the researchers analyzed a cohort of 282,000 threatened renters from January 2020 until August 2021. They found that eviction filings were actually 44.7% lower than expected during the study period — likely due to the Emergency Rental Assistance program and eviction moratoria — which prevented many evictions in 2020 and 2021. But filings remained high in many cities and largely returned to prepandemic levels in 2022, the authors said.

The median age of renters who faced eviction during the pandemic was 36, according to the study, and 62.5% were female. The majority of threatened renters, or 57.6%, were Black.

The median household income for threatened renters was $38,000, and 25.9% were below the poverty threshold. Threatened renters during the pandemic were similar to threatened renters prior to the pandemic in terms of age, race, ethnicity, sex, household income, poverty status, educational attainment, and nativity, the authors noted.

While they were not able to pinpoint the exact causes of death among renters facing eviction during the pandemic, the authors said the risk was likely particularly pronounced during this time because forced displacement carried out through a court-ordered eviction judgment (which occurs in approximately half of filings, though this ratio varies substantially across jurisdictions) is associated with physical and mental health consequences, and may increase exposure to COVID-19 infection and mortality.

In addition, the authors said eviction filings signal a broader risk of displacement even if they do not result in a formal eviction judgment.

“Many tenants leave their homes after receiving a filing, as they know their chances of receiving a favorable judgment in housing court are low,” they wrote. “Combined with associated fines and fees, filing alone can push renters into even more precarious and overcrowded housing, increasing risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

Previously published work from the Eviction Lab and the U.S. Census Bureau found that 7.6 million individuals were threatened with eviction every year between 2007 and 2016. The study also notes that landlords in the U.S. file more than 3.6 million eviction cases annually.

These results highlight the need for policymakers and researchers to take access to safe and stable housing into consideration when designing health interventions, the authors said, as this research clearly demonstrates that housing is a public health issue.

“Our findings highlight housing instability as a key social determinant of health,” the authors wrote. “Our findings can also inform emerging research on targeting resources in emergency situations, such as screening for housing instability and targeting health care resources for individuals and families experiencing such instability.”

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