Housing insecurity for U.S. Renters During the Covid-19 Pandemic, 2020-2021

By Vicki Oppenheim, January 2022

Urban Planner, Geographer, and Economics Graduate Student

With the economic shocks of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, many households in 2020 to 2021 found it difficult to pay rent. The Federal Government allocated millions of dollars for rental assistance and also implemented evictions moratoriums (ended in August 2021). I wanted to know who was the most affected and what other factors may play a role in housing instability.

For my Panel Data class at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Fall 2020, I analyzed the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey Data (HPS), a weekly or biweekly survey of U.S. households on housing, health, food security, and other Covid-related topics. Here is the abstract of my 2020 study:

The Covid-19 pandemic led to economic uncertainty and negative impacts on communities as the U.S. economy reacted to temporary business closures, social distancing measures, and a healthcare crisis with continued cases and deaths. Renter households may be particularly vulnerable to housing insecurity, or decreased confidence in their ability to pay rent and may face potential evictions. This research explores the association between Covid-19 economic shocks on renter households and housing insecurity (See graph of housing insecurity over time). Over a sixteen-week Census Household Pulse Survey period from April 2020 to October 2020, this study explores the relationship between increasing renter household insecurity and job loss, socioeconomic status and Covid-19 public policy. The study is a panel data analysis with 50 states and the District of Columbia as the cross-section units over 16 weeks utilizing the fixed effects estimation method. Minority status, middle age, young adult age, median income, families with children, and income loss are associated with increased housing insecurity. During weeks 7 through 16, the proportions of households borrowing money and using credit cards to cover basic needs is associated with an increased level of housing insecurity. Households with housing insecurity or were at risk of potential eviction turned to other sources of income to meet their needs. The estimation results show no statistically significant relationship between Covid-19 lockdowns or state housing eviction moratoriums and housing insecurity.

Starting in January 2021, I collaborated with Dr. Myungsup Kim and Dr. Jeffrey Rous in the UNT Economics Department to expand my study by looking at individual components of housing insecurity, using different independent variables, adding more months of data, and using different estimation techniques. Dr. Kim and Dr. Rous recommended two-way fixed effects and the fractional response models. After many months of work, we added data through July 2021 and revised and added independent variables.

In December 2021, we submitted a working paper for publication.

Abstract: Using U.S. Census state-level data from April of 2020 to July of 2021, we analyze how housing insecurity had changed over time in relation to socioeconomic variables, the spread of COVID-19, and state-level stay-at-home orders. Instead of creating one housing insecurity measure, we look at each of the components of housing insecurity used by U.S. Census separately. These components include the following: missing rental payment, low confidence in making next rental payment, and eviction likelihood. We use a two-way fixed effects model and a fractional response model for estimation and find that both models show similar results. We find that households with less than $35,000 in 2019 income, those without college degrees, and Black households were more likely to lose employment income due to the pandemic. We find that lost employment income, household income below $25,000, not having a college degree and having children in the household are all correlated with a lowered confidence that the household would make the next rent payment. State test positive rates and stay-at-home orders also seem to increase this low confidence. Being behind in rent and not having a college degree are the most important determinant of households’ subjective feeling of eviction likelihood.