Take it from someone who has lost their home: The end of the eviction ban is terrifying


In 2004, my father and I got a 60-day notice to vacate the home I grew up in; the owner had died and her kids were ready to sell. Lacking enough money to start fresh anywhere, we ended up living in campgrounds and sleeping on the floor of family members’ homes for a little over a year.

I broke a molar at one point but was unable to be seen by a dentist; we were constantly on the move and never near a clinic. Ultimately, I needed a root canal and crown. My father had been diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, which was deemed small enough to leave alone but monitor closely. Bouncing from place to place made that hard to do, though he made a valiant effort to show up for doctors’ appointments. By the time we were finally housed, his aneurysm had grown and he was rushed into major surgery. I had to juggle the responsibilities of a new job along with his care.

The memories of that time are fresh in my mind with the end of the Centers for Disease Control eviction moratorium, a strategy intended to slow the spread of COVID-19. Federal, state and local protections prevented 2.45 million evictions since March 2020, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. But now, roughly 11 million people — one in seven adult renters — are behind on rent, putting them at risk of losing their homes. In the week ending September 18, the Eviction Lab counted 7,413 eviction filings in the six states and 31 cities it tracks, up from 4,580 the previous week.

And COVID-19 is not the only crisis tearing people from their homes. Wildfires and huge storms have destroyed countless dwellings this year. What will happen to so many displaced people?

The prognosis is not good.

An eviction — or even the mere threat of one — can affect physical and mental health across generations. The threat of eviction is associated with higher risk of premature birth and low birth weight. The stress of a pending eviction can lead to job loss, further miring someone in poverty.

An NYU School of Law study found that an eviction significantly raises the probability of landing in the emergency room and being hospitalized for a mental health diagnosis in the year or two after the filing. Evictions also are associated with shorter life spans and higher death rates. A Swedish study found that people who were evicted were one and a half times more likely to die from any cause within three years of the experience, compared with people from similar demographic and economic backgrounds who hadn’t been evicted.

Evictions and the health consequences hit people of color hardest.

Women, especially mothers, are prone to depression in the years after being displaced. I don’t have children but this was absolutely the case for me — a plunge into deep sorrow combined with anger at myself for being unable to appreciate that the worst was over. It always felt like another shoe was about to drop. As a result, I was afraid much of the time.

When my father and I were living in coastal campgrounds we would buy and share a daily paper. I remember reading about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the people displaced from New Orleans, and wondering where we would all end up. The two of us landed in a seedy trailer park that rarely felt safe but was significantly better than nothing.

To this day, the ordeal still casts a shadow that complicates my everyday existence. After my dad’s death, I moved four times in five years, finally settling into a cramped studio. I’m reluctant to furnish it after having to give away and repurchase household items so many times.

Permanence is no longer something I can believe in.

My landlord is a good man but judgmental of the homeless. He has commented more than once on my “frugality.” I truly believe he means no harm, but it cuts to the bone and makes the past bitingly present.

The dominoes fell very quickly for us: 60 days to find a new place, when we had no savings to speak of (meaning no ability to pay a rental deposit), and a combined income that did not add up to three times the rent pretty much anywhere (a cushion landlords generally require). If a deadly virus was spreading unchecked through the country at that time, I can only imagine how much harder it would have been to rebuild a sense of stability.

The end of the CDC moratorium has magnified housing insecurity and the stress and anguish it brings. Without a radical effort to keep people housed, what follows may be a health crisis to rival the pandemic.

Heather Seggel | Columnist

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