When Umu Conteh first learned she had tested positive for Covid-19 this summer, the nursing assistant was terrified for her two young daughters.
But the virus was only the start of her troubles: Her illness left her out of work for two months, forcing her to cut back on food and clothing purchases. The $922 monthly rent for their cramped two-bedroom apartment next to a highway interchange started to pile up. And a few weeks ago, she opened her door to see a court notice telling her she was facing eviction.
“I try hard to keep up my rent. I never joke with my rent,” Conteh, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, told CNN as she waited for her case to be called at the Columbus, Ohio, eviction court last week. But now, she added through tears, “I don’t have food to give them – the baby’s begging for food.”
Conteh and her 1- and 4-year-old daughters were among the 118 families who faced eviction cases Wednesday at a temporary courtroom set up at the local convention center. That’s a fraction of the eviction proceedings moving forward around the country, despite the Trump administration’s moratorium in effect until the end of the year.
And communities at high risk of complications from Covid-19 have been especially affected by evictions – a perfect storm for danger during the pandemic.
In a dozen large cities around the country, neighborhoods with elevated rates of medical conditions that put people at risk for serious illness from Covid-19 have seen disproportionately high rates of eviction filings over the last six months, according to a CNN analysis of data from The Eviction Lab, a Princeton University research institute.
That means that thousands of people evicted over the last six months were living in areas with the highest health risks from the coronavirus.
The trend is “very troubling,” said Peter Hepburn, acassistant professor and research fellow at the Eviction Lab. People evicted during the pandemic may be forced to live with friends or relatives in more densely packed housing or left in homeless shelters, situations that make social distancing difficult or impossible, he said.
“Getting evicted is bad for the individual facing these problems,” Hepburn said, “but also bad for the community and for public health generally.”
Tenant advocates and experts say that the national moratorium put in place this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be strengthened, and Congress should pass rental assistance, to protect vulnerable families and prevent evictions from spreading the virus