As COVID-19 vaccination rates across America creep up, landlords are calling for an end to tenant protections, arguing that the public health crisis that led federal health authorities to freeze evictions is over.
But data on evictions tell a different story. Across nine major U.S. cities, the neighborhoods with the highest rates of eviction lawsuits are also the areas with the lowest rates of vaccination, according to research from Princeton University.
Manhattan's financial district — ZIP code 10006 — has seen just 23 eviction filings since March 2020, when the coronavirus took hold in the U.S.. More than 90% of adults who live in the neighborhood, which is home to Wall Street and boasts a median household income of $176,000, were fully vaccinated as of the end of June.
By contrast, New York City's west Bronx ZIP code of 10457, where the vaccination rate is less than half that of the financial district and the median household makes under $30,000, saw 1,541 eviction cases filed in the same time period, Princeton Eviction Lab researchers noted in a report.
"In all nine cities that we have data for, ZIP code areas with higher eviction filing rate also tend to have lower vaccination rates," Olivia Jin, one of the authors of the research brief, told CBS MoneyWatch. "It does… alarm us that people who are at greater risk of eviction are not being protected," she said.
The disparities are stark. In Phoenix, the typical low-eviction neighborhood (with a rate of eviction filings of 5%) was more than half vaccinated, while the typical high-eviction neighborhood, where eviction rates were three times higher, was just 35% vaccinated.
In Houston, there was a nearly fourfold difference between the most-vaccinated ZIP codes, where the city's health department reported that all adult residents were immunized against COVID-19, and the least-vaccinated, where only 27% had gotten their shots.
While the researchers didn't control for income in this study, research on eviction shows that poor people, as well as Black people, are much more likely to face eviction than their higher-income White counterparts.
"Evictions are in general very highly correlated with poverty... and the places that have high eviction filing rates and low vaccination rates are also those with higher poverty rates, and have a high percentage of people of color," Jin said.
Generally, White Americans have been faster to get vaccinated than Black and Latino Americans have been. Some of the same factors that make getting vaccinated a challenge — say, working a low-wage job that doesn't offer time off for medical visits — also make a person more likely to face eviction.
For housing advocates, Princeton's findings underline why a federal moratorium on evictions, imposed last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, should not only be extended past its current June 30 deadline but also strengthened. (CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on Thursday signed an extension of the eviction ban through July 31.)
The National Low Income Housing Coalition has pushed the White House to prolong the eviction ban until vaccination rates rise in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
"The coalition is really encouraging the Biden administration to extend the moratorium, and this shows why," Paul Kealey, chief operating officer at the NLIHC, said in a call with reporters this week. Allowing evictions to resume too early "could lead to increased spread of, and deaths from, COVID-19," the coalition wrote in a letter to the White House last week.
The Biden administration has not yet indicated if it will extend the CDC order. "We believe they are likely to extend it at least a little bit past June," Kealey said. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the order would be extended by one month, citing unnamed sources.
COVID-19 isn't over
"People are thinking — even those who aren't vaccinated — are thinking COVID is over. But it's not," said Jennifer Kolker, a professor of public health at Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health. "If you're not vaccinated, it's not over."
The ranks of the unvaccinated include many people who want to get the shot, but haven't gotten around to it.
"A lot of people, too, have other stuff going on in their lives," Kolker said. "They've got to deal with work, with childcare, getting groceries on the table. It's not that they're refusing — it's just not a top priority."
Many low-income people also lack a regular health care provider or transportation to vaccination sites, or simply can't take time off work to get the shot. And people of color — who have contracted the coronavirus at higher-than-average rates — are less likely to have received the vaccine and more likely to face eviction.
The research highlights concerns for the nearly 8 million renter households around the U.S. who say they're behind on rent. Despite $46 billion in emergency federal aid, most of the money has yet to reach financially distressed renters, according to the NLIHC. Meanwhile, landlords have continued filing for eviction in courts. (The Supreme Court is reviewing the CDC's eviction halt after a number of property owners and managers sued to overturn it.)
Experts fear a surge of evictions that displaces mostly unvaccinated people could lead to a new wave of coronavirus deaths, especially as the hyper-infectiousbecomes the dominant strain.
"Without rental assistance distributed, there is a real threat of mass eviction filings & COVID spikes in high risk communities after June 30," Emily Benfer, a visiting law professor at Wake Forest University who studies housing and health, said on Twitter.
At the height of the pandemic, eviction restrictions saved lives, reducing the number of COVID-19 cases spread by families forced to move in with strangers or into a shelter. According to one academic paper last fall by public health researchers, states and cities that lifted their eviction protections last summer contributed to an excess 10,700 coronavirus deaths.
Another recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that if eviction protections had been consistent nationwide, COVID-19 deaths could have been reduced by 40%.