Emergency Rental Assistance Supports the Mental Health and Financial Well-Being of Households

New research from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) finds that emergency rental assistance (ERA) provides short-term benefits beyond housing stability for recipients, including improved financial well-being and better mental health. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, the JCHS study compares renter households who received ERA (recipients) with those who applied but had not yet received assistance (applicants). The report finds that ERA recipients are less likely to self-report current rental arrears, borrowing from friends or family to meet household expenses, food insecurity, or poor mental health.

The research uses descriptive statistics, logistic regression models, and propensity score matching to compare recipient households with applicant households across eight self-reported outcomes in the Pulse survey related to housing, financial well-being, and mental health. Descriptive findings show that only 25% of ERA recipients were behind on rent at the time they were surveyed, compared to 65% of applicants, and of those behind on rent, less than one-third of recipients reported being deeply behind (with over three months of arrears) compared to over half of all applicants. While both groups reported difficulties in meeting their household expenses, ERA recipients reported lower rates than applicants of tapping into savings (18% and 24%, respectively) or borrowing from friends and family to meet expenses (34% and 48%, respectively). ERA recipients were also less likely than applicants to be experiencing food insecurity (30% and 40%, respectively). Additionally, just over half of ERA recipients reported experiencing at least one mental health issue in the two weeks prior to being surveyed compared to approximately two-thirds of applicants.

The logistic regression model confirms the descriptive findings after controlling for other factors that may influence self-reported outcomes. Rental assistance is associated with an 82% reduction in the odds of being behind on rent. At the same time, the odds of ERA recipients having difficulty meeting their expenses are less than half those of applicants. Receiving ERA is associated with a 28% reduction in the odds of tapping into savings, a 37% reduction in the odds of borrowing from friends and family, and a 32% reduction in the odds of experiencing food insecurity.

The research demonstrates that ERA is associated with statistically significant benefits for financial well-being and mental health, in addition to housing stability. These additional benefits are important to consider as funds run out in several states and remain unspent in others. The report’s author argues that sustained assistance through emergency programs and through existing rental housing subsidies will be needed to address the ongoing financial distress and housing instability faced by renters and ensure that renters can remain stably housed.

Read the report at: https://tinyurl.com/44vxudny