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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Health Organizations and Experts File Brief Supporting Eviction Moratorium

On October 9, 2020, 24 national associations and experts filed an amicus brief describing the importance of the national eviction moratorium in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The brief was prepared by Emily A. Benfer, the Yale Law School Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization (LSO), and the Southern Poverty Law Center, in consultation with Yale School of Public Health faculty and with the aid of legal interns at the Wake Forest University School of Law and Yale Law School.

Based on their research and work in this area, the brief urged the court to recognize that preventing eviction is critical to protecting public health and ensuring health equity during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the case, Brown v. Azar, filed in a federal district court in Georgia, landlords from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia are asking the court to stop the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from temporarily halting evictions through December 31, 2020.

“We wanted to make the deeply researched link between evictions and the spread of infectious disease accessible to the courts,” said Evan Walker-Wells ’22, who worked with LSO’s Housing Clinic on the brief, “and to highlight the cutting-edge research many of our amici have led that shows eviction moratoriums effectively contain the spread of COVID-19.”

Five Yale Law students and one Wake Forest Law School student worked closely with Benfer (a former Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy senior fellow), Nathan Baker Clinical Professor of Law Jay Pottenger ’75, and attorney Richard Tenenbaum. Law students outlined and structured the brief, drafted large sections, found key research, and edited the draft.

The brief states that the COVID-19 pandemic, which the CDC called a historic threat to public health, has created an unprecedented housing and eviction crisis. Millions of Americans were already vulnerable to eviction in the United States when the pandemic struck. Job and wage loss caused by COVID-19 has only worsened housing security for millions of Americans who are now unable to afford their rent. As amici discuss, “without these moratoriums, evictions will likely increase to unseen heights and, in turn, eviction will facilitate the transmission of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.”

The people who are at the highest risk of eviction are also more likely to suffer from preexisting chronic diseases and be at a heightened risk of severe or fatal cases of COVID-19, according to the brief. Evictions and COVID-19 both disproportionately harm marginalized communities and people of color. The brief argues that “public health and health justice requires that all people have equal opportunity to achieve good health and protect themselves from COVID-19. Protecting public health during this pandemic requires protecting those most likely to contract, spread, and die from COVID-19, including poor people and people of color who are more likely to be evicted and more likely to suffer severe harm during the pandemic.”

Students in the Housing Clinic normally focus on representing tenants in Connecticut courts facing eviction, but the amicus brief represented an opportunity to work on a case of national significance. “Even with CT’s powerful evictions moratorium in place that protects many of our clients, we’ve seen how many of them are still at risk,” Walker-Wells said. “But in many states, there are almost no meaningful state protections against evictions.”

Amici include numerous organizations striving to advance the health of children, adolescents, adults, and disadvantaged and minority populations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics — and its Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia chapters — the American Medical Association, Children’s Healthwatch, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Medical Association, Public Health Law Watch and the George Consortium, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Individual amici include health, medical, and law faculty and researchers who are the nation’s foremost experts on eviction, housing, and health: Professor Emily A. Benfer, Dr. Matthew Desmond, Associate Professor (Adjunct) of Law and Co-Director of the Global Health Justice Partnership Gregg Gonsalves, Dr. Danya E. Keene of the Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Kathryn M. Leifheit, Dr. Michael Z. Levy, Dr. Sabriya L. Linton, Dr. Craig E. Pollack, Dr. Julia Raifman, Dr. Gabriel L. Schwartz, and Dr. David Vlahov of the Yale School of Nursing and Yale School of Public Health.