Over Half Of Black Renters Face Rent Debt, Study Finds
Much like the coronavirus pandemic itself, the economic recession and associated rent debt it caused have disproportionately affected marginalized populations.
At the beginning of this year, 28% of respondents in the newest survey from Apartment List had rent debt, down from 33% in its October survey. Broken down by race, the picture is less positive: The proportion of Black renters with rent debt rose from 47% to 53%, while rent debt among White, Hispanic and Asian renters all decreased.
"Pre-existing economic inequality is compounding the problem for minority renters," Apartment List research associate Rob Warnock wrote in the survey report. "People of color, who tend to work in occupations that are more prone to disease exposure and more susceptible to pandemic-related layoffs, are coming into 2021 with greater rent debt and more salient concerns about losing their housing once eviction protections expire."
Federal eviction protections are scheduled to expire in March, though President-elect Joe Biden looks likely to extend them through Sep. 30. But that eviction moratorium has legal requirements that low-income tenants are less likely to be able to meet or even be aware of, prompting some states and cities to institute more comprehensive protections. Even so, some evictions have still been carried out across the country.
Among all holders of rent debt, 42% owe over $1K, according to the Apartment List survey, which drew from a pool of 4,000 respondents selected to reflect the demographics of the U.S. population on the whole. Though 51% of all renters now say they are "not at all concerned" about getting evicted, 33% of Black survey subjects responded with the lowest level of concern, with 31% reporting that they feel either "very concerned" or "extremely concerned" about imminent eviction.
Rent debt also has adverse effects on renters aside from eviction, and the $25B in rental assistance included in Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus plan would alleviate some, but not all, of those effects. And even though Biden's party controls both houses of Congress, its Senate majority rests on Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker, making passage of his full plan far from a sure thing.
Unless and until robust rental assistance is handed down from a federal level, it falls to cities and states — cash-strapped as they are, thanks to 2020's brutal revenue shortfalls — to use the time before moratoriums are lifted to minimize the number of debt-related evictions when they become legal again.