The Deeply Flawed Studies Behind the Eviction Moratoriums
The government and media relied on studies plagued by shoddy statistics to make the case for blocking evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On September 4, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) halted residential evictions in the United States for nonpayment of rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many states and municipalities got there first, imposing at least partial eviction moratoriums starting in March and April of 2020. The theory behind these emergency orders was that if Americans were forced to leave their homes and move into more crowded settings, it would increase transmission of COVID-19.
The federal ban was supposed to expire at the end of 2020. Then it was extended a month, then two more months, then through the end of June, and then last week, the CDC extended it again until the end of July. Many states and cities have also extended their moratoriums—in some cases through the end of September, even as COVID-19 infection and death rates are plummeting.
Were the eviction bans necessary to protect public health during the pandemic? Two studies that got widespread media attention, and that have been cited by the federal government to support its policies, claim to show that the moratoriums saved thousands of lives.
"Researchers estimated that the lifting of moratoriums could have resulted in between 365,200 and 502,200 excess coronavirus cases and between 8,900 and 12,500 excess deaths," noted NPR, in an interview with postdoctoral researcher Kathryn Leifheit of UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health.
Leifheit was the lead author of "Expiring Eviction Moratoriums and COVID-19 Incidence and Mortality," a study cited by the CDC in its order extending the federal moratorium. (Leifheit didn't respond to our interview request, which mentioned that Reason was working with a statistician to review her results.)