The end of the federal eviction moratorium has amplified demand for tenant protections nationwide, especially as COVID-19’s Delta variant surges. In Atlanta, public health experts say eviction prevention is vital to curbing the spread of the deadly virus. 

On Tuesday, Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University, told Atlanta Civic Circle that “it’s critically important” to keep people safely housed as we continue to fight the pandemic, adding that an uptick in homelessness that could result from an expected wave of evictions could have dire consequences.

“From a public health standpoint, homelessness is always a problem,” del Rio said, “and I worry that people will be evicted and go to homeless shelters. Think about a better place for COVID transmission to occur.”

Del Rio urged Congress to reenact the federal eviction moratorium, which expired on Saturday, and encouraged everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19, “because, if I was at risk of becoming homeless, I would like to at least be protected one way, and that’s with the COVID vaccine.”

Dr. Fazal Khan, a University of Georgia associate law professor who focuses on public health, echoed del Rio’s concerns, saying in an interview, “When it comes to public health and preventing the spread of infectious disease, making sure people are housed is a vital component of the strategy.”

“As we saw with the prison system, [homeless shelters] can be the kind of place where a virus can spread and multiply, and then make its way into the community,” Khan continued.

In just five metro Atlanta counties, almost 75,000 evictions have been filed, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.

On Sunday, after the federal moratorium lapsed, DeKalb Chief Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson issued an executive order barring residential evictions countywide for 60 days. The effort is due in part to a cyberattack that crippled the county’s emergency rent relief program a few months prior. 

Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall, during a special-called meeting on Monday, asked the county attorney if Fulton could follow suit. Fulton officials did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s request for an update on Hall’s request by press time.

While local and federal lawmakers push for further freezes on residential evictions, government-funded housing assistance programs abound. Unfortunately, many of them are having trouble distributing the money timely, according to The Washington Post

The City of Atlanta on Monday closed the online application window for its emergency housing assistance program, which is federally funded and administered by United Way of Greater Atlanta. Officials running the operation said they need time to wade through thousands of applications before accepting new ones. 

Fulton County’s rental assistance program, on the other hand, began accepting new applicants on Monday, after shuttering to allow officials time to sift through a torrent of requests for help. 

Congressional Democrats continue advocating for an extension to the federal eviction moratorium. However, housing experts still worry that, though the financial side effects of the coronavirus pandemic can be dampened with public help, the looming “tsunami” of evictions seems inevitable.

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