The National Low Income Housing Coalition released a new report this week, The-Road-Ahead-for-Low-Income-Renters.pdf (nlihc.org), summarizing research on how renters have fared during the pandemic and their likely needs going forward.
The report provides an overview of what we have learned over the last year and a half from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and other sources. Approximately 6.5 million renter households were behind on rent in early July, though the largest surveys do not yet provide an estimate of the aggregate size of accumulating rental arrears. Surveys suggest that many renters have paid the rent only by relying on unsustainable, harmful methods like taking on additional debt or cutting back on basic needs. The note also explains why we have good reason to believe renters of color, low-income renters, and renters with lower educational attainment are experiencing greater struggles.
The report describes the challenges emergency rental assistance programs will face in getting assistance to all renters in need and erasing accumulated arrears. Multiple, independent surveys suggest many renters remain unaware of available resources; over a fourth of the lowest-income renters cannot access online applications at home; and many renters may disqualify themselves or hesitate to apply because of documentation requirements. Renters who have taken on debt to keep current on rent may be ineligible for assistance, even if they will face greater challenges in the future as a result.
Finally, the report examines the struggles low-income renters will continue to face, even as the economy recovers from the downturn of 2020. Employment has been slower to rise for low-wage workers, many have additional debts to address that will add to existing burdens, and rents have continued to climb throughout the pandemic in many cities. Even if an economic recovery is robust and sustained, simply returning to a pre-pandemic status quo would leave millions of low-income renters in a dire position.