Protected from Eviction, Not from Delta

It would be a terrible time to open the eviction floodgates

The CDC’s federal eviction moratorium has now been in place for almost a full year—since September 4th, 2020. An untold number of people—a rough 10 million at the very least (yes, an entire 3% of the US population)—have been shielded from eviction and, potentially, homelessness, thanks to the moratorium.

The program Congress put in place to help these households has been slow to get off the ground. Of course we should extend the moratorium in order to let these funds reach people. But also of concern is the rapid COVID-19 case growth in many counties across the country. Do we really want to begin eviction proceedings for millions of households as the coronavirus comes roaring back?

Slow-moving Federal Assistance

In addition to the moratorium, Congress also passed a package containing $25 billion in emergency rental assistance funding at the end of 2020. Democrats topped that off with $21 billion more in the American Rescue Plan. But these rental aid programs have not had an easy time getting off the ground, as I’ve written about here before.

Luckily, the Treasury did update their guidance documents for the ERA program, instructing state and local agencies to make payments directly to tenants when landlords are non-responsive or decline aid and to be more flexible with documentation requirements for tenant applicants among other things.

But since that time, state and local agencies have still struggled to get the assistance out the door. At the end of last month, only 6% of the $46 billion had been spent. There are signs some agencies are picking up the pace, but New York, for example, still has not paid out a single dollar.

Clearly agencies need more time to get the money out the door. What was the point of allocating $46 billion if we’re not going to spend it?

Delta Variant

But perhaps even more worrisome is the fact that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is now raging across the country, causing rapid case growth rates not just in unvaccinated places, but in highly vaccinated areas, too. How many of the households with rent debt (at risk of eviction next week!) live in areas with rapid case growth?

In order to find out, I used the rental debt database from a group called National Equity Atlas. Now unfortunately this database is missing county-level data from ten states (Arkansas, Delaware, Maine, Mississippi, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming) due to too small sample sizes for their methodology.

Nevertheless, I proceeded. Combining the county level data with county level COVID-19 case data from NYT as well as Census population and household data, we can see relatively easily which counties are experiencing high case growth rates and how many households at risk of eviction (again, court proceedings could begin as early as next week) live in those counties. Below is a state-level map of those results. Unfortunately, we do not have rental debt data for Arkansas or Mississippi which we know are both experiencing rapid case growth at the moment.

Tallying these numbers up, we find that about 4.7 million of the roughly 6 million households at risk of eviction reside in counties with rapid case growth, presumably fueled by the Delta variant.

I can see no good reason for not extending the moratorium long enough to let the assistance programs reach the people in need, nor can I see any good reason for allowing eviction proceedings to begin across the country right as the coronavirus makes its comeback.

As a final note, here is a scatterplot from the combined datasets showing the 2-week change in new daily cases against the proportion of households with rental debt by county. The mean case growth rate (~240%) is shown by the red line, and the mean shares of households with rental debt on each side of the mean case growth are shown by the orange lines. Keep in mind, I have not run any statistical significance tests, nor developed any model for testing correlation.