While Missouri hasn’t had a unified plan to tamp down the spread of COVID-19 in our state, municipalities have put in place many different response strategies. From mask ‘suggestions’ all the way to strict stay at home orders and shuttering of non-essential businesses, all of us have been impacted by the pandemic and response in one way or another. Housing precarity policies are designed specifically to help stabilize households and provide them access to their basic daily needs. Namely, eviction and utility shut off moratoria have successfully helped keep people in their homes over the last months across the country. It is not too late for Missouri to apply these policies, which work, to save lives.
In March 2020, a federal moratorium on evictions went into place, meanwhile Missouri also briefly shut down the courts (which had a similar effect on evictions). Missouri had a short and voluntary utility disconnection moratorium, other states had much longer lasting ones. Researchers at Duke recently began a study to understand how much of a difference could have been made had these moratoria continued. What if they had been strengthened to keep even more renters in place? The country had a brief lapse this past summer where no eviction moratorium was in place and thousands of households faced eviction in a very short time. In short, should we still be working harder to keep people stably housed?
Duke University researchers analyzed the impact of these housing precarity policies. Researchers wrote in the study that, “Had such policies been in place across all counties (i.e., adopted as federal policy) from early March 2020 through the end of November 2020, our estimated counterfactuals show that policies that limit evictions could have reduced COVID-19 infections by 14.2% and deaths by 40.7%.”
During a global pandemic with no vaccine and no cure, staying home is the best course of action. Comprehensive and long-lasting eviction and utility disconnection moratoria could have saved tens of thousands of lives across the country last year and made those people’s lives better today. These policies would have provided key additional protections for people with low incomes, renters, and households headed by People of Color.
Of course without appropriate levels of financial support these moratoria simply kick the problem down the line. However, the opposite is also true. Missouri still has hundreds of thousands of COVID specific federal funds to allocate and spend, with more on the way. Red tape, long applications, and a lack of clarity about how the funds should be utilized has plagued our state in getting assistance into the hands of people who need it. Every week, I receive distressing emails from struggling families. One email to Empower Missouri in January said, “My boyfriend just lost his job after the new year and I can’t work due to medical issues…they left a threat[ening] note on our door today [that an] eviction has been filed. My daughter and her kids [will] be homeless. [They’re] ages 12 and 9.”
It isn’t too late for Governor Parson and state and federal lawmakers to help our struggling communities. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve lost over 6,500 of our beloved Missouri neighbors due to COVID-19. President Biden has already proposed a nearly $2 trillion relief package to provide rental and utility assistance for those hardest hit by the pandemic’s economic fallout. The President also signed an executive order extending a nationwide pause on evictions through the end of March to help Americans, but we also need our local and state leaders to step up and take action NOW! Missourians need immediate relief. It is no help if assistance comes on Thursday but the lights were turned off last Monday.
We should want the best outcomes for our neighbors and equitable use of assistance dollars. Please do your part and tell Governor Parson and Congress to pass lifesaving eviction and utility shutoff moratoria.
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Policy and Organizing Manager