Pandemic Widens Housing Security Disparities

Research from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) examines changes in housing security before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. CEPR previews high-level findings in “Pandemic Leads to More Precarious Housing Situation,” documenting that approximately one-third of renters reported housing insecurity between April and July 2020. Additionally, the pandemic has reversed trends of narrowing disparities in housing insecurity. Prior to the pandemic, housing security disparities shrunk modestly between racial and ethnic groups and households with and without children; however, these have begun to widen since the onset of COVID-19.

The researchers used two data sources to compare housing outcomes in 2020 to previous years. They examined 2017-2019 data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Household and Economic Decision Making (SHED), which asks whether respondents expect to be unable to pay their rent/mortgage that month. To document housing insecurity in 2020, the researchers used the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (HPS), which asks whether households made an on-time housing payment the month prior and how confident households feel paying next month’s rent/mortgage on time. The study also drew on HPS data to assess the extent to which certain demographic characteristics and employment outcomes predict housing insecurity.

The study found that renters are experiencing housing insecurity at a rate nearly twice that of homeowners; 32.6% of renters report being housing insecure since the start of the pandemic compared to 16.6% of homeowners. The pandemic has also disproportionately affected housing security for Black and Hispanic renters. In 2017, 19% of White renters reported housing insecurity, growing modestly to 22.4% amid COVID-19 in 2020. In comparison, housing insecurity among Black renters increased from 33.5% to 44.8%. The rate of growth in housing insecurity for Hispanic renters is even starker, increasing from 30.5% to 45.3%.

Housing insecurity has also grown among renter and owner-occupied households with children, increasing from 25.1% in 2017 to 29.8% in 2020. In 2020, Black and Hispanic households with children experienced housing insecurity at a rate more than double that of White households with children. Renter households with children have significantly higher odds of experiencing housing insecurity compared to childless renters. The risk of renters with children falling behind on rent is 68% greater than renters without children.

Finally, the researchers found that women are at a higher risk of housing insecurity than men during the pandemic. This held true after controlling for various attributes including age, children in the household, income, and employment status. Across all racial and ethnic groups, women experienced a greater probability of being housing insecure compared to their male counterparts. Black women are the most likely to experience housing insecurity, while White men are the least likely. The risk of White men experiencing housing insecurity is 13 percentage points less than that of Black women.

COVID-19 has exacerbated disparities in housing outcomes, disproportionately impacting Black and Hispanic households, households with children, and women. The authors note that these findings underline the importance of Congress and the President passing relief legislation for households experiencing growing debt as a result of the pandemic.

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