During the COVID-19 pandemic, “home” has become more central to our lives as public health guidance instructs us to distance from our communities. However, for many of the state’s most vulnerable residents, home is neither a safe nor stable place. As the pandemic creates new barriers to maintaining income and paying rent, a new study from researchers at Georgia Tech emphasizes why proactive policies to improve housing security, including preventing evictions even before they are filed, are needed to protect children in vulnerable communities.

The study sheds light on an alarming facet of economic uncertainty in Connecticut: the link between increasing eviction filings and reports of child maltreatment.

Using data collected by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families (DCF) and state court records of evictions, the researchers found that with every additional eviction filing for every 100 occupied homes, there is a 2 percent increase in reports of child maltreatment. These increases were higher in neighborhoods with more low-income households, people of color, and households with children.

Notably, the Georgia Tech researchers identify eviction filings, rather than completed evictions, as a potential cause of increased child maltreatment reports. The formal eviction process begins with an eviction filing, a request from the tenant’s landlord that leads to a court decision about whether the renter should be forced to leave. In 2016, nearly 4 percent of renters had an eviction filed against them, totaling to 17,470 Connecticut residents. Of these filings, most but not all led to an actual eviction.

There are many possible mechanisms that could link eviction notices to child welfare. On the household level, the researchers note that eviction notices might be a symptom of unsafe living conditions or financial hardships that lead to inability to pay rent. The threat of eviction itself might lead to forgoing other necessary expenses in order to pay rent, such as food, medicine, or clothing. The psychological impact of eviction notices may lead to depression or substance use, which have been reported as risk factors for child maltreatment.

The study paints a haunting picture of the human impact of evictions, and their  disproportionate impact on certain neighborhoods. According to data collected in the 2018 DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey, we know that households with children, low income, and Black and Latino residents are often asked by their landlord to move —a type of informal eviction— or required to move out of their homes through the formal eviction process.

As DataHaven reported in its Towards Health Equity in Connecticut publication this year, 7 percent of Connecticut renters who moved in the past three years had moved due to a formal or informal eviction, but this jumped to 8 and 10 percent among Black and Latino renters, respectively. These groups already face discriminatory housing practices, and during the ongoing pandemic, bear a disproportionate burden of COVID-19-related sickness and unemployment.

The impact of evictions is felt beyond the individual households who are removed from their homes. It affects the whole neighborhood by increasing residents’ stress about their own risk of eviction and destabilizing social ties between community members. These social structures are a key contributor to the well-being and happiness of neighborhood residents.

As the pandemic interferes with the ability to keep earning an income and paying rent, households are especially vulnerable. Recent survey data from the Census Bureau indicate that tens of thousands of Connecticut residents have little confidence they can continue to pay their rent on time. The moratorium on evictions in Connecticut has been repeatedly extended, but it doesn’t stop all evictions: Landlords may still evict tenants who owe six or more months of rent or are behind on any amount of rent from prior to March, even though current economic conditions may make it even more difficult for them to catch up on rent or find new housing. This can compound the financial and psychological factors that the Georgia Tech study noted may lead to child maltreatment, in addition to having other negative public health impacts.

Connecticut intends to use federal stimulus payments to provide relief to these families, including reviving a program to reduce rent for people in the process of eviction. According to groups such as the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, these funds are nowhere near enough to address the full extent of Connecticut’s housing insecurity. But the Georgia Tech study shows why we must fundamentally restructure housing relief policy. Well before evictions are filed, housing insecurity has already had a devastating effect on the well-being of families and children. Interventions need to happen before that time.

Aparna Nathan and Numi Katz are Research Assistants at DataHaven, a New Haven-based non-profit organization with a 25-year history of public service to about:blankConnecticut communities. Its mission is to empower people to create thriving communities by collecting and ensuring access to data on well-being, equity, and quality of life.

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