Homeless person in tunnel
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Prior to the pandemic, many poor renter households in the U.S. spent over half their income on rent, leading to an epidemic of evictions and negative impacts on physical and mental health. A Penn State researcher will participate in a new project that will evaluate the effects of pandemic eviction-prevention policies on individual and area-level mortality.

Funded by a four-year, $1.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, project co-investigator Andrew Fenelon, assistant professor of public policy and sociology, will work with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Yale School of Public Health, Princeton University, Boston University, Rutgers University, and George Washington University to focus specifically on the connection between eviction and health outcomes among Black and Latinx renters.

“We know that evictions likely contribute to multiple causes of mortality, including chronic health conditions such as heart disease, which are primary drivers of racial disparities in mortality,” said Fenelon, who is also a Population Research Institute associate, part of the Social Science Research Institute. “Eviction prevention policies during the pandemic varied widely by state, strength, and length of protection, which gives us a unique opportunity to evaluate the impacts of eviction on health and racial inequities.”

The team’s previous research indicates eviction impacts low-income communities of color the most, with Black and Latinx Americans particularly vulnerable to mortality associated with eviction. “We’ve found that earlier onset of age-related health declines is associated with exposure to racism and lack of access to resources, which may increase the burden of eviction,” Fenelon said.

To determine the impacts of eviction and eviction prevention policies on health and racial inequities, the research team will rely on their prior policy mapping work which looked at mortality across all 50 states over the course of the pandemic—allowing the researchers access to millions of eviction records, nationally representative mortality data, and qualitative data collection.

For the first time, the researchers will link the mortality data to eviction records filed prior to and during the pandemic, which will allow the team to analyze relationships between eviction filing and mortality by age, gender, race, and ethnicity. “We’ll also be able to look at the effects of eviction prevention policies during the pandemic and estimate the number of deaths averted due to these policies,” said Fenelon.

Additionally, the researchers will conduct interviews with a racially diverse sample of renters in Connecticut and Ohio to capture long term impacts across two distinct communities. “We hope that this project addresses how housing can impact health and will offer critical findings to shape future policy making, especially as we move beyond the pandemic and eviction rates begin to once again increase,” Fenelon said.

The research team includes principal investigators Danya Keene, associate professor of social behavioral sciences at the Yale School of Public Health, and Peter Hepburn, assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University-Newark and a research fellow at the Eviction Lab.

The project is being supported by a limited funding program through the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of pandemic era housing and food policies.