Housing Choice Vouchers Provide Safety Net for Tenants and Landlords during COVID-19

A recent survey of tenants and landlords shows that the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program has helped mitigate some of the adverse financial impacts of COVID-19. By February 2021, tenants with vouchers owed less back rent on average than those without vouchers, and landlords who rented to voucher holders during COVID-19 reported a generally positive experience. The Urban Institute outlined these findings in a blog post, “Housing Vouchers Have Helped Tenants and Landlords Weather the Pandemic.”

The survey was conducted in February 2021 by Avail, an online service for small landlords. Over 1,200 landlords and 2,500 tenants completed the survey, which asked about housing experiences during the pandemic.

The survey found that voucher holders owe significantly less back rent than non-voucher holders, particularly among the lowest-income households. Among households with incomes less than $25,000 per year, a higher proportion of voucher holders owed either no rent or a small amount of rent compared to non-voucher holders. Sixty-eight percent of voucher holders owed no back rent or less than $1,000 in back rent, compared to only 52% of non-voucher holders. Further, 14% of non-voucher holders owe $5,000 or more in back rent, compared to only 5% of voucher holders. This finding is expected since HCV holders typically contribute 30% of their adjusted income toward rent, while the voucher subsidy covers the remaining rent up to a payment standard. Voucher holders can request an income recertification to lower their portion of rent when their income declines.

Landlords generally reported positive experiences renting to households with vouchers during the pandemic, though this varied by race and ethnicity. Sixty-nine percent of white landlords, 77% of Black landlords, and 80% of Hispanic landlords reported a positive experience with voucher holders. Approximately one-third of landlords who currently accept vouchers reported that the pandemic has made them more likely to accept vouchers in the future. Further, no Black or Hispanic landlords said that COVID-19 made them less likely to accept vouchers in the future. Landlords who do not currently accept vouchers, however, did not change their perception of the program.

Urban Institute estimates only one in five eligible renters receives federal housing assistance. These findings suggest that expanding funding for the Housing Choice Voucher program could significantly increase housing stability for low-income renters. HUD should also consider providing more outreach and clear information around the program; 49% of landlords surveyed said they do not know enough information about the program. The authors also suggest that streamlining the program and its regulations could increase uptake among small landlords.

The article can be found at: https://urbn.is/3vVzw72

For more on the Housing Choice Voucher Program, see NLIHC’s Advocates Guide Chapter 4, Section 1.