Research shows eviction moratoria slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives

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New research shows that eviction moratoria and bans on utility cutoffs greatly slow the spread of COVID-19. These protections for low-income renters have an even larger impact reducing deaths from the coronavirus. If there had been a national, uniform moratorium on evictions and utility cutoffs from the start of the pandemic, millions would not have been infected, and thousands of people would still be alive.

The research was done by a team at the Duke University Environmental Justice Lab, associated with Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions The team focuses its work on environmental and racial justice questions. They were interested in seeing how much protecting renters from evictions and utility disconnections had slowed the spread of the coronavirus.

The Duke team used statistical modeling to determine how much protections for renters have impacted the spread of the coronavirus. They used state and county level data on infections and deaths. Their model accounted for variations in eviction protections among state and local governments around the country.

How do eviction bans slow the spread of the coronavirus?

Eviction moratoria allow low-income renters to shelter in place even if they have lost their jobs. When people become homeless, they are at greater risk of falling ill. They are either exposed living on the streets, or living in congregate shelters with little privacy. Protections from eviction also benefit the general public, as having more homeless people living in public spaces risks spreading the disease more widely.

The Duke researchers also looked at the health effects of banning utility disconnections. Utility cutoffs have a direct impact on the health of low-income renters. If an apartment lacks heat, electricity, or hot water, it is hard for residents to wash, make food, or stay warm. Falling behind on utility bills is also often an early warning sign that renters are at risk of eviction.

The study found that policies that limit evictions slowed the spread of COVID-19 by 4.4%. These policies also reduced death rates by 11%. Putting a hold on utility disconnections reduced coronavirus infections by 4.4%. Utility cutoff moratoria also reduced death rates by 7.4%.

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What if the federal government had issued a uniform national moratorium against evictions and utility cutoffs at the beginning of the pandemic?

The study provides estimates for infection and death rates if these protections had been in place for every county from early March, 2020 to the end of November, 2020. 

A national eviction moratorium would have reduced infections by 14.2% and reduced the death rate by 40.7%. A national moratorium on utility disconnections would have reduced infections by 8.7% and reduced the death rate by 14.8%.

President Biden has extended the CDC eviction moratorium until the end of March, and has proposed extending it through the end of September. Although the vaccination effort has begun, it will be some time before the pandemic lets up. The U.S. economy cannot start to grow until the pandemic is under control. This new data shows that keeping utilities running and protecting low-income renters from eviction slows the spread of COVID-19 and saves lives.

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