Researchers at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard recently released a report discussing renter’s responses to the financial stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Because millions of Americans have struggled with affording their rent over the past year, renters have experienced challenges that have impacted their financial well-being. The JCHS report discusses the causes and extent of financial hardship, renter’s response to loss of income, and the effects of financial hardship. A variety of surveys have found that the pandemic caused a decrease in income for roughly half of renters. The losses were larger for renter households headed by people of color, younger Americans, and those with lower incomes. Loss of employment and decreased hours were major causes of lost income. Early in the pandemic, a few surveys found that roughly 40% of renters lost at least half of their income. In response to loss of income, renters utilized other resources, such as their savings funds, to maintain paying their bills. The report estimates that between 25% and 40% of renters pulled money from their savings to pay rent during the pandemic. Almost 25% of renters obtained funds for rent by borrowing from family and/or friends. Unemployment or stimulus checks were another method renters utilized to pay their rent. About 30% of renters reported relying on government financial support to pay rent at some point during the pandemic. In addition, the report highlighted surveys that determined if renters have been able to receive rent reductions or deferrals. Between 5% and 15% of renters made temporary agreements with their landlords.


The JCHS report includes that many renters have reported several negative effects from the pandemic financial hardships. One of the main effects is falling behind on rent payments. Roughly 10% to 20% of all renters were behind on payments at the end of 2020. Studies estimate that the average amount owed may be as much as $5,000-$6,000. Those same renters behind on rent are at an increased risk of being evicted. A national survey revealed that 12% of children live in households behind on rent and struggle with food insecurity. In Los Angeles, a survey found that some renters behind on rent also reported struggling to afford food, and were more likely to report physical health issues. Hopefully, an increase of research and understanding of renter’s responses to the pandemic financial hardships will help policy makers determine an approach that will assist renters.

Click here to read the full JCHS report and learn more!


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