Millions across the U.S. could be forced from their homes in the middle of the pandemic if Congress does not extend the federal eviction moratorium that is due to expire at the end of December. Congress is expected to push the moratorium back by one month, to January 31, in the $900 billion stimulus bill being debated in Washington, but such an extension would only be a temporary fix to a much wider problem. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that one-third of U.S. households are behind on rent or mortgage payments and will likely face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months. We speak with UCLA researcher Kathryn Leifheit, who says the lifting of state eviction moratoriums this summer led to 430,000 new COVID infections and 10,000 deaths. “We think these deaths are preventable, and they could have been prevented had those moratoriums been kept in place,” says Leifheit. We also speak with tenant rights activist Tara Raghuveer, who says the federal evictions moratorium “wasn’t good enough to begin with,” but allowing it to expire would leave “millions of families vulnerable to eviction within the first 20 days of the next year.”
AMY GOODMAN: As U.S. hospitalizations from COVID-19 hit another record high, we begin today’s show looking at the crisis of evictions and how millions across the country could be forced to leave their homes in the middle of the pandemic if Congress does not extend the federal eviction moratorium that’s due to expire at the end of the year. Congress is expected to extend the moratorium by one month, to January 31st, in the $900 billion stimulus bill currently still being debated in Washington. But this is just a temporary fix. The U.S. Census Bureau reports one-third of U.S. households are behind on rent or mortgage payments and will likely face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months. Meanwhile, many have already faced eviction despite the national moratorium.
New research finds more than 400,000 COVID-19 cases and nearly 11,000 deaths resulted from evictions, after many states allowed eviction moratoriums to expire over the summer.
The co-author of this research joins us now in Los Angeles, California, the new epicenter of the pandemic. Kathryn Leifheit is a researcher at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. And in Kansas City, we’re joined by Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants, a tenants’ rights organization in Kansas City, director of the national campaign Homes Guarantee.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Tara, let’s begin with you in Kansas City. Lay out the national problem that we’re seeing here — record deaths, record hospitalizations, record infections around the coronavirus. And this federal moratorium on evictions is due to end at the end of this year, in just a few weeks.
TARA RAGHUVEER: It’s important to realize that the federal moratorium that’s due to end wasn’t good enough to begin with. It didn’t come until September, and that was months after people in places like Kansas City had been evicted and forced to the streets in the middle of a global pandemic. The CDC moratorium only covers one type of eviction, and those are evictions for nonpayment of rent. It leaves a lot open to local interpretation, and it puts the burden on tenants to apply for that protection. So the CDC moratorium was not good enough. But the CDC moratorium allowed to expire at the end of the month leaves hundreds of thousands, millions of families vulnerable to eviction within the first 20 days of the next year.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain the difference between federal evictions and other evictions. How is it — what does federal apply to?
TARA RAGHUVEER: So, the CDC moratorium applied, ostensibly, to every property in the country and was available for any tenant who needed protection. Previously there was only eviction protection for buildings that got some kind of federal financing, but in September the CDC went further than that.
The problem, though, was that the federal moratorium left a lot to local interpretation. So, here in Kansas City, for example, the presiding judge of our circuit court decided that he was still going to allow landlords to file evictions, and the judges were still going to hear evictions, and they were still going to issue eviction judgments for those cases where the tenant hadn’t gotten the right information to protect themselves under the CDC moratorium.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you recently tweeted out, Tara, “If people get checks but we don’t #CancelRent, those aren’t stimulus checks, they’re an industry bailout.” Explain.
TARA RAGHUVEER: The tenants in the streets, the tenants in their homes have been demanding rent and mortgage cancellation since March, because tenants were always clear that in the face of unprecedented public health and economic crisis, they should not be responsible for what is the largest bill for every American family across race and class lines. But months into the pandemic, tenants are still being held responsible for their rent payment.
And the fact is that the rent eats first. That is to say, if a family gets a check, whether it’s for $600 or $1,200, that money goes first to their landlord. So that does not stimulate the economy. That does not put food on the table. That does not help their family survive this traumatic moment. All that does is enrich the property owner to whom they owe their rent.
AMY GOODMAN: In November, members of KC Tenants were detained by police when they tried to halt the eviction of a woman from her apartment in Raytown, Missouri, who said she had nowhere else to go.
LANDLORD: Get off the property. The police are coming.
KC TENANTS ACTIVIST 1: Why are you evicting someone in a pandemic?
KC TENANTS ACTIVIST 2: All evictions are an act of violence! All evictions are an act of violence! All evictions are an act of violence! All evictions — ow!
POLICE OFFICER: Stop! Stop. Stop.
AMY GOODMAN: Last week, hundreds of protesters marched here in New York, in Brooklyn, to the housing court, demanding an end to evictions and to cancel rent.
PROTESTERS: We are the tenants! We are the tenants! The mighty, mighty tenants! The mighty, mighty tenants! Fighting for justice! Fighting for justice! Cancel rent! Cancel rent!
AMY GOODMAN: So, those are sounds from the streets of Brooklyn. And, of course, that first eviction was right around the issue in Kansas City involving your group, KC Tenants. If you can talk about what that eviction was all about? Often specifics capture people’s attention more than the mass numbers, which is horrifying. And also, even the people throwing people out, like those who are brought in with sheriffs, you see them online weeping and saying, “I’m taking out this person’s furniture, and I’m probably next.”
TARA RAGHUVEER: That’s right. So, Amana, whose eviction we disrupted in Raytown, Missouri, is a cancer survivor. She was living by herself. She wasn’t even behind on her rent. She was being evicted because the property manager was basically sick of her abuser showing up and causing trouble at the apartment complex. She’s a domestic violence survivor, and she was basically evicted for calling for support in her domestic violence case. And it was true, she had nowhere to go that night.
So we showed up to execute this kind of blockade as a way of both supporting Amanda and showing her solidarity, but also exposing the fact that sheriff’s evictions are still happening right now, because the fact is, for a lot of people who aren’t impacted by these types of events, there is the ability to ignore that our state is sanctioning this kind of violence. So we wanted to put that on blast, and I think we effectively did so.
And tenants across the country are taking matters into their own hands, shutting down eviction court, shutting down these — or, blockading these types of evictions that sheriffs are executing, as a way of saying that, you know, if we don’t have justice, we won’t allow for any peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Kathryn Leifheit, you did this major national study at UCLA linking the lifting of eviction moratoriums to an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Explain what you found.
KATHRYN LEIFHEIT: Right. So, to understand this relationship between evictions and COVID in this context of a pandemic, we looked at eviction moratoriums that were implemented and then lifted at the state level. So, 44 states — or, 43 states and the District of Columbia implemented an eviction moratorium between March and September, and then 27 of those states went on to lift the moratorium over the summer.
So what we did is we compared the states that had lifted their moratoriums to those that kept their moratoriums in place, and we found that the states that lifted their moratoriums had 430,000 more COVID cases and over 10,000 more COVID deaths. So, we think these deaths are preventable, and they could have been prevented had those moratoriums been kept in place.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain more explicitly the connection.
KATHRYN LEIFHEIT: Right. So, when people get evicted, often they have limited options about where they go next. You know, these things happen very quickly, and they’re violent, as Tara has been explaining. So people often move in with friends or family, if they have that option. If not, they might enter a homeless shelter. And both of those things increase your number of household contacts. They increase crowding. And we know that household transmission and crowding are two of the main mechanisms that drive up COVID transmission. And it’s important to note that this doesn’t only increase COVID risk for folks who get evicted, but for the entire community.
AMY GOODMAN: The study wasn’t peer-reviewed, but you decided to get it out even in advance at that. Why?
KATHRYN LEIFHEIT: Right. So, we thought that this was such urgently needed evidence for advocates and policymakers. The study is awaiting peer review, but we wanted to make sure that policymakers had these numbers in hand as they’re making decisions about rent relief and whether or not to extend state and national eviction moratoriums.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting. I don’t know how many people picked up on — this federal moratorium was issued by the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which really underscores the connection between evictions and public health, Kathryn.
KATHRYN LEIFHEIT: Yes, that’s right. So, I did my dissertation looking at links between eviction moratoriums and chronic health outcomes, so things like birth outcomes when pregnant moms experience eviction, or food insecurity, cognitive development, lead poisoning for children. So we’ve been talking about eviction as a public health problem for a while. But then to have the CDC come out in the context of the pandemic and say that this was their rationale for the moratorium was really powerful.
AMY GOODMAN: And we have to wrap up soon, but I do want to ask you which communities are most impacted.
KATHRYN LEIFHEIT: Right. So, Black and Latinx communities are disproportionately burdened by evictions. And, of course, those are the same communities that are getting battered by COVID. So we really worry that these evictions could potentially broaden disparities that are already wide in COVID cases and deaths.
AMY GOODMAN: And your response to Joe Biden choosing Congressmember Fudge to head the HUD, Housing and Urban Development? What you think needs to be the new policy around housing, and particularly how it affects children?
KATHRYN LEIFHEIT: Right. So, of course, affordable housing isn’t a new problem, and we already had a housing affordability crisis before this pandemic. So, we need to do everything we can to make sure that folks have safe, affordable housing, so that people are not just one crisis or economic shock away from losing their homes.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Tara Raghuveer, as we wrap, if you can talk about the difference that these actions have made when people come out? I mean, we’re talking about in these next days, this federal moratorium on evictions is scheduled to end. But even with it in place, so many people are being evicted. What do you think is the most effective response?
TARA RAGHUVEER: For us, the most effective response here in Kansas City and in the tenant movement across the country has been to take radical direct action to shut down every instance of evictions. So we’ve been disrupting the remote eviction hearings in court, and we’ve been showing up for blockades. We’ve been training others to do the same. And as far as we’re concerned, especially in a state like Missouri, where our governor, where our judges are not listening to tenants, do not care about working people, the only thing we have to do is take action, take collective action, and shut down the rotten systems that are keeping our people in such pain.
AMY GOODMAN: Tara Raghuveer, director of KC Tenants. Kathryn Leifheit, researcher at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, and we will link to your report at democracynow.org.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. When we come back, an historic nomination: first Native American to head the Interior Department. We’ll get response from Indigenous leader Winona LaDuke. Stay with us.