The Health Risks of Eviction during COVID-19
In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic—when local and state governments are doing everything they can to prevent spread of the virus, and we are all still being reminded that we are safer at home—thousands of people across our region, many of them children, are at risk of losing their homes in the coming weeks and months.
At least 1,900 eviction cases are currently pending in Richmond, and an additional 1,900 are pending in neighboring Henrico and Chesterfield Counties. Many eviction cases are a direct result of unemployment and other personal crises caused by the pandemic, which is causing greater harm among low-income people of color, households with single parents, and other vulnerable groups.
Housing is essential to protecting and sustaining health during the best of times, but especially during COVID-19: Stable housing makes it possible for individuals and families to maintain social distancing and have a private space where they don’t have to worry about face masks and infection risks. As local school districts are planning for virtual education in the fall, a stable home with internet access is essential for children to continue their education and maintain some sense of normalcy and connection to their teachers and classmates. Stable housing is also essential for older adults, people with chronic illnesses, and Black and Hispanic/Latino residents who are at an increased risk of severe infection and death if they contract COVID-19. Those who are evicted may be forced to live in shelters, motels, cars, or friends’ or family members’ homes, each of which makes physical distancing much more challenging and can increase risk of becoming infected.
But eviction also poses many other health risks in addition to COVID-19: in fact, it can radically change personal and family health outcomes both immediately after eviction and over the course of a lifetime. Being displaced from your home can lead to depression and anxiety, sleep disruption, increased stress on parents, high blood pressure, and loss of community. An eviction can also make it very hard to find safe, high-quality housing in the future, which further endangers long-term health. Given that evictions disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic/Latino people in Richmond, they can also contribute to overall health inequalities along race and ethnicity lines.
According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, Richmond has the second highest eviction rate in the country. Statewide eviction freezes were in place through the end of June but have been allowed to expire, which has freed courts to begin considering eviction cases in July. A federal pause on evictions for federally subsidized housing will expire on July 25, introducing even more pending cases before the courts. Advocacy groups such as the Virginia Poverty Law Center have appealed without success to Governor Northam to extend the eviction freeze, though state and local leaders have taken other steps to help. Governor Northam has allocated $50 million from the federal CARES Act fund for a rent relief program to cover rent and mortgage payments during COVID-19, promising that the program will have an equity lens and prioritize communities of color. Mayor Levar Stoney has also dedicated $6.1 million of the federal CARES Act funding given to Richmond to support eviction diversion and rental assistance.
People across our city and our region are already coming together to take bold action to address the public health crises of COVID-19, racism, and police violence, but eviction is another public health crisis that deserves bold solutions and a vocal defense of those whose health and safety are at risk. Additional support for those who are facing eviction is essential during COVID-19, but it will continue to be essential long after the pandemic has ended.
Safe, high-quality housing is necessary to protect and sustain health and should be a right, not a privilege, and Richmond and Henrico Health Districts will continue to work alongside our public, nonprofit, philanthropic, and community partners to promote quality affordable housing for every person in our communities.
Grants and Communications Specialist
Richmond and Henrico Health Districts