What Happens If Eviction Moratoriums Expire Across the US?

Overhead photograph of a suburb.

Q&A with Roshanak Mehdipanah

Assistant Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education

Eviction moratoriums, both at the federal and state levels, are expiring, as are the benefits of the CARES act that provided emergency funds to millions of unemployed Americans.

The federal eviction moratorium that applies to federally subsidized apartments and properties with federally backed mortgages is set to expire July 24, unless Congress passes the proposed Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act that would extend the moratorium for another 12 months.

In Michigan, the statewide moratorium expired July 15, but new Eviction Diversion Programs made $60 million in federal coronavirus relief funding available to help cover back rent for some tenants.

Two University of Michigan experts discuss the policy and public health considerations.

Margaret Dewar is an emerita professor of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Her research covers housing and community development and urban land use, with a focus on strengthening deteriorating neighborhoods.

Roshanak Mehdipanah is an assistant professor of Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Her research centers on urban renewal and housing policies aimed at eliminating health inequalities.

What are some of the key considerations to keep in mind as we watch how Michigan's new Eviction Diversion Programs are implemented?

Dewar: The program the governor announced has a good structure that reflects the research and thinking of housing experts across the country. However, the initiative faces challenges. Every program's effectiveness depends on how it is implemented, and startup for any new program is difficult. The program is not ready to provide aid as of the date of the lifting of the moratorium. Individual courts need to delay processing of eviction filings until the program is operating. We will need to see if the application forms, the eligibility criteria and the screening procedures reflect the aims of the program and provide effective relief.

I know housing advocates are working hard to try to assure that the details of the program enable it to accomplish its goals. In addition, the program does not have enough funding. We don't know exactly how much funding is needed because data are available only from a segment of rental properties, not those most likely to house people who faced high housing cost burdens before the pandemic and now have lost income. The state needs additional federal funding to meet more of the need.

What other evidence-based interventions could help to reduce evictions during the pandemic and beyond?

Dewar: Numerous interventions could help reduce the state's high eviction rate. Right-to-counsel programs that provide legal aid to tenants facing eviction have been shown to reduce evictions elsewhere. Eviction diversion programs in individual courts, different from the one that the governor announced, offer more services to prevent homelessness, assist in rehousing and involve social workers who can help get tenants the aid they need. In some states, these programs are linked with housing code enforcement and are cited as best practices.

Numerous other efforts seem promising, such as provisions for giving tenants more time to pay and to negotiate payment plans with landlords. We don't know how well many such ideas might work because they have not been evaluated. Even as these more fully developed eviction diversion programs and right-to-counsel programs are implemented, the data to evaluate them are hard to come by. More complete, consistent and timely reporting of data on the interventions and outcomes following eviction filings are needed to assess their effectiveness.

How has the pandemic changed policy discussions related to affordable housing and eviction prevention?

Dewar: The pandemic has not so much changed policy discussions about affordable housing and eviction prevention as it has elevated them. More people now know this nation has a huge problem of housing affordability among low-income households. The pandemic has made this worse as low-income people lost their jobs, but when the pandemic recedes, I hope a commitment remains to address the problem of insufficient housing for low-income households. It will require a larger federal role in providing many more housing choice vouchers and a larger state and local role in putting programs in place to protect low-income tenants and owners from losing their housing.

What are the public health implications of evicting people during the pandemic?

Mehdipanah: Research has linked evictions to a range of negative health outcomes including depression, anxiety and suicide. During a pandemic, at a time where rehousing will be even more challenging, some of these evictions can ultimately result in families and individuals becoming homeless. In addition to the health risks associated with this process, homeless populations have been deemed as high risk for contracting COVID-19. Therefore, we can only expect the pandemic will exacerbate the already established pathways between evictions, displacement and health.

How might evictions impact people's support networks during the current health crisis?

Mehdipanah: Evictions not only affect individuals but also communities. As people are displaced, social networks are impacted and neighborhoods can become more unstable. Furthermore, evictions can make it more difficult to find new housing and individuals can be discriminated against by other landlords, resulting in the acceptance of precarious housing conditions just for the sake of shelter.

It's important to remember that we didn't get here overnight. The chronic shortage of affordable housing nationwide prior to the pandemic, coupled with the increased financial insecurity and uncertainty of the pandemic, have resulted in yet another example of inequities. The wave of evictions across the country has already begun, and unless more is done to address this issue right now, the long-term effects will burden communities and cities across the country for many years to come.