The number of tenants who fell behind on rent peaked at 15 million in January 2021, the report showed. Since then, federal aid programs — including billions of dollars in rent relief and an eviction moratorium — plus a recovering economy, have reduced that number. But 10.4 million tenants remained who said they were not up to date with rent in March, according to CBPP.
As of September 2020, 55% of all adult renters reported loss of income due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but for Latino and Black renters the share was even higher, at 65% and 57%, respectively. Ultimately, these tenants were put at risk of eviction and homeless, spurring the federal government to take unprecedented action.
“We see that these short-term relief measures that were passed during the pandemic make a difference,” said Alicia Mazzara, deputy director of housing equity and data analysis at CBPP. “They’ve helped people get lodged. But it’s not enough.”
The CBPP survey, which analyzed the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey between September 2020 and March 2022, shows where the need for help still remains.
“The bottom line is that white tenants are doing better for all the structural, systemic and historical reasons that we’re familiar with,” Mazzara said. “The most marginalized people were the ones who suffered the most and were over-represented whichever way we sliced the data, looking at homelessness, rent instability or eviction.”
Where housing difficulties are hardest
Black renters were especially susceptible to falling behind on rent during the pandemic. Because of a history of racist housing policies and discrimination in education and employment, black renters are more likely to have lower incomes, pay a greater share of their income for rent, and experience eviction and homelessness, compared to with other racial groups, according to the report.
At the peak of January 2021, 33% of black renters were in arrears, compared with 25% of Latino renters and 12% of white renters. As of March 2022, the overall share of problem renters had dropped, but still remained higher for black and Latino renters than for white renters.
Black renters with children faced the most difficulties during the pandemic, according to the survey, with an average of 32% saying they were not up to date on rent. This compares to 23% for Latino and Asian families with children and 18% for white families.
The highest rates of housing difficulties were concentrated in the South, where there is a larger share of black tenants compared to other US regions and tenant income is lower. Eight of the 10 states with the greatest housing difficulties were in the South region, with New York and New Jersey (which have a high concentration of renters) rounded out the top ten.
The two states where adult renters were most likely to report late rent, Mississippi, where 24% of renters reported being late on rent, and Louisiana, 23%, also have the highest share of black renters. Furthermore, the report found that the high levels of hardship are caused less by high rents and more by low renters’ incomes that have stagnated in recent years in many states in the region.
“Despite some popular notions of housing difficulties, such as expecting more impact in coastal areas where housing costs are highest, difficulties have been concentrated in southern states,” said Erik Gartland, research analyst on the housing team at CBPP. “This overlap of race and hardship reflects the systemic racism and pre-pandemic disparities in housing that have grown as we have seen a disproportionate impact of the pandemic on black and Latino workers.”
With rents now rising to record highs — national average rents hit $1,827 a month in April, up 21% from the start of the pandemic two years earlier, according to Realtor.com — renters who survived the worst of the pandemic may be struggling again.
The researchers said that decades of slow home construction in the United States have resulted in rising house prices and rising rent costs.
But just building more isn’t enough, Gartland said.
“Building housing takes time,” he said. “And any new housing won’t be affordable for those on the lower levels. You also need family-level tenant subsidies – housing vouchers – so they can pay 30% of their rent without regard to the cost of construction. .”
Directly targeting entrenched systems of racial disparity is also critical, according to Mazzara.
And states and jurisdictions can also transfer any remaining recovery funds from federal pandemic relief packages to efforts to help struggling tenants and create more affordable housing, Mazzara said.
“It’s not enough to make a one-size-fits-all correction,” she said. “What are the solutions that not only prevent evictions, but provide culturally competent services? This is something housing policy is discovering.”