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Introduction to the Uneven Impact of the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has strained household budgets across the country, hitting renters especially hard. Millions of renters have lost their jobs and many, after exhausting other options to make rent, have fallen behind on their housing payments. Government actions, particularly in the form of stimulus payments, supplemental unemployment benefits and eviction moratoria, have largely prevented a housing crisis in the short term. However, the underlying problem of a steep drop in renter incomes has caused significant disruptions in the rental market that are likely to continue well into the recovery. The small rental properties that house about half the nation’s tenants have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, but there has been very little data available to assess which tenants are most at risk of being evicted when moratoria expire and which landlords have faced severe financial losses.

In this study we present results of our nation-wide survey of landlords of small rental properties to better understand the patterns of missed rent payments among tenants and landlords due to the pandemic. We define small rental properties as 1- to 4-unit properties, including rented condominium units. According to the 2019 American Housing Survey, these properties comprise about 48 percent of rental units in metro areas. This part of the housing stock is home to most unsubsidized low-income families, particularly families with children. Yet the vast majority of small rental properties are held by individuals, not large companies, and many of these owners do not have the financial cushion to absorb many months of rent non-payment.

The brief first outlines what is known about the impact of the pandemic on the rental market and about the segment of the market made up of small rental properties, whose tenants and owners tend to differ from the tenants and owners of larger apartment buildings. After a brief overview of research methods, we then present the findings of our survey, which provide insights into the uneven impacts of the pandemic on the tenants and owners of single-family rentals and
the steps impacted owners have been taking to respond to rent shortfalls. The vulnerabilities evident in this survey’s
findings — including the challenges facing tenants with deep rental arrears of six months or more, threats to the affordable rental stock as hard-hit landlords take steps to sell some or all of their properties, and the unevenness of awareness of and access to Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) — have immediate and important implications for policymakers and service providers, especially as eviction moratoria
are set to expire in the coming weeks.

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