As many Hillsborough County residents prepare to celebrate the holidays, evictions continue to displace people, despite a local COVID-19 State of Emergency and ample evidence that evictions help spread the disease.
Numbers from the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court shared with Creative Loafing Tampa Bay show that as of this week, 5,023 evictions have been filed at the “Writ of Possession” stage since January of this year.
The Writ stage of evictions involves law enforcement showing up to a person’s door and leaving a note which usually gives the tenant 72 hours to vacate the premises under threat of removal by force.
Hillsborough County is still under a local COVID-19 State of Emergency, which is extended week by week at the discretion of the county.
In its most recent extension of the state of emergency last week, the county wrote that, “Hillsborough County must continue to take emergency action to lessen the spread of COVID-19 and its effects on the County's citizens and visitors.”
However, the county told CL that the state of emergency does not protect against the ongoing evictions. It is mainly used to help receive extra funding in order to help afford vaccination and COVID-19 treatment clinics.
While the evictions never fully stopped in Hillsborough during the pandemic, they shot up when Governor Ron DeSantis ended the state’s eviction moratorium in September of last year, and when the Supreme Court ended the Center for Disease Control (CDC) national eviction moratorium in August of this year.
Multiple expert sources have found that the lack of protection against evictions has threatened public health throughout the pandemic.
“Eviction and housing displacement are particularly threatening to individual and public health during a pandemic,” wrote the Journal of Urban Health (JUH).
According to JUH, eviction is likely to increase COVID-19 infection rates because it results in overcrowded living environments, doubling up, transiency, limited access to healthcare, and a decreased ability to comply with pandemic mitigation strategies (social distancing, self-quarantine, and hygiene practices).
The American Journal of Epidemiology found that COVID-19 incidence and mortality increased in states after eviction moratoriums expired, and expiration was associated with a COVID-19 cases doubling in cases.
In March 2020, after CDC’s eviction moratorium took hold, evictions screeched to a near halt in Hillsborough, in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
From April through August of 2020, only 172 evictions were filed in the county. Then, in September, when Governor Ron DeSantis let Florida’s eviction moratorium expire, evictions took off again.
October 2020 saw the county’s evictions peak during the pandemic, with 668 writs issued. Between September and December of last year, 1,461 writs were put on people’s doors, reaching pre-pandemic levels, and seemingly dismissing the CDC moratorium altogether.
What these numbers show is that despite the state of emergency’s language around protecting citizens from a deadly pandemic in Hillsborough, landlords have been allowed to displace thousands of people who couldn’t afford rent during one of the most dire economic crises in recent generations. This practice has been business as usual for over a year now during the pandemic—a practice that experts say contributes directly to the spread of COVID.
Across the Bay, Pinellas County does not have a local state of emergency in place, and 2,870 Writs have been issued this year so far.
Cities and jurisdictions across the country like New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Austin have all moved to protect renters who are behind on payments until at least January of next year. State laws differ in each state, allowing some municipalities more flexibility to protect renters than others.
DeSantis has drawn a hard line with municipal eviction rules in Florida. In May, he signed an executive order meant to impose the state’s COVID-19 mandates above local rules, saying, “due to the tremendous steps the State has taken to protect Florida's most vulnerable populations and rapidly offer vaccines to every eligible Floridian who desires one, local communities lack justification in continuing to impose COVID-19 mandates or restrictions upon their citizens.”
Over 61,000 people in Florida have died of COVID-19 in Florida that we know of due to the state’s resistance to proper record keeping, with an overall average of 61 deaths per day throughout the pandemic.
UPDATED: Story updated on 11/22/2021 at 5:18 p.m. after receiving Pinellas Counties' Writ of Possession numbers.
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