Abstract: Eviction Moratoria & Eviction Filings during the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Eviction Moratoria & Eviction Filings during the First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Encanto A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Vincent Fusaro, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Rebekah Levine Coley, PhD, Faculty, Boston College, MA
Naoka Carey, Doctoral Student, Boston College
Background & Purpose: The economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic led to fears of an eviction crisis, with an anticipated wave of evictions due to non-payment of rent. That wave has, as of Spring 2022, not arrived. Given the massive spike in unemployment in the initial months of the pandemic, the disruptions to many industries, unmet child care needs with schools and care facilities closed, and many other factors, these concerns were not unfounded. Additionally, since households of color and households in economically distressed neighborhoods were already at greater risk of eviction, any uptick in eviction could exacerbate pre-existing disparities in well-being.

While the eviction wave never emerged to the degree feared, it was reasonable to expect. It is thus important to understand how a rental housing crisis was avoided, especially the role the equally-unprecedented policy response played in forestalling potential disaster. In particular, the federal government and forty-four state governments enacted eviction moratoria freezing or tempering the eviction process. Our study seeks to understand whether and how these policies were related to eviction risk during the pandemic.

Our study addresses three core research questions. First, to what degree were state and federal eviction moratoria associated with formal eviction filings? Second, were state and federal moratoria complementary or redundant? Finally, were moratoria associated with a tempering of the relationships between eviction and known risk factors such as poverty and racial and ethnic demographics of the neighborhood population?

Methods: Drawing on weekly Census tract eviction filings data from twenty-three municipalities from January 2020 through February 2021 (n=424,560 tract-week observations), we estimated a set of multilevel zero-inflated negative binomial models to assess the relationship between moratoria and eviction filings. Our models included indicators for state and federal moratorium policies, county unemployment rate, COVID incidence, and tract poverty rate and racial and ethnic demographics drawn from 2015-2019 American Community Survey 5-year estimates. We estimated a base model treating these factors additively, then a set of models interacting the policy indicators with each other, with tract poverty rate, and with tract racial and ethnic demographics.

Results: Without moratoria in place and with all other variables at their means, our base model predicts 0.42 filings in a tract-week. With both a state and a federal freeze in place, this drops to 0.12 filings. Much of the reduction in filings was due to an increase in tracts with zero filings, not a lower count when filings did take place. Moratoria also somewhat tempered, but did not eliminate, the relationship between risk factors and rates of eviction filings.

Conclusions & Implications: Eviction moratoria were an important line of defense against a wider housing crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when both state and federal moratoria were concurrently in place. Disparities in eviction risk remained, however, and so it will be important to monitor patterns of housing instability as the recovery proceeds.