American renters want housing assistance during the pandemic

Image by CDC/ Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS at

Low-income renters across the country are at risk of losing their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic. A new poll shows that more than half of all people worry that they will lose their housing without additional assistance, and the vast majority of Americans also feel the government should help people stay in stable housing during the pandemic.

Millions of low-income renters under stay-at-home orders cannot pay their rent and also buy food. Many of these renters are covered by eviction moratoria that protects them from homelessness, but several areas do not have these policies. And millions more who are in places where they are protected from eviction still are at risk of losing their homes when those orders expire, and they cannot pay back rent.

The National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC) Opportunity Starts at Home campaign conducted a poll to see how people were coping with their housing situation during the pandemic. The poll was conducted by Hart Research Associates between May 15-20, 2020.

The poll found overwhelming support for the government helping people stay in their homes. 80% of respondents think it is very important or fairly important for the government to provide assistance to help people cover their housing costs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Even more people felt that housing assistance is a critical investment during the crisis. When asked if housing assistance to prevent evictions and foreclosures should be considered as urgent a priority as healthcare investments during the pandemic, 88% agreed. Nearly 9 in 10 people agreed that elected leaders should take major action to make sure everyone has stable, affordable housing during the pandemic.

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People also overwhelmingly feel that the government should make sure everyone has stable housing during the coronavirus crisis, even if it means increasing the federal deficit. By a margin of 67% to 33%, Americans want the government to make major affordable housing investments, even if it increases the deficit.

The NLIHC poll found widespread support for some of the measures being considered in the next coronavirus stimulus package. These would all help low-income renters. 89% support a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. 93% support the government providing emergency rental assistance to keep people in their homes. 90% support expanding homelessness assistance to minimize the number of people staying in shelters.

Nearly half of all households have made sacrifices during the pandemic so that they can keep paying their rent or mortgage on time. 17% cut back on food, and 16% stopped saving for retirement. 10% skipped paying for utilities like water and electric, or insurance. 8% took an additional job or worked more hours at their current job. 8% cut back on activities and learning materials for their kids, and 6% had to cut back on their healthcare.

People also borrowed to cover the rent and make ends meet, often from sources that charge high interest rates. 15% of people used a credit card to cover all or some of their housing costs. 13% accumulated credit card debt, while 11% borrowed money from family or friends to cover their housing costs.

The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project has worked in its home state of Colorado to help people facing eviction due to the pandemic. They have also done research on the risk of eviction in each county of the state. They expanded their eviction risk modeling to the national level, and are currently preparing a report with state-by-state information.

The project estimated that 26 million people in 11 million households will struggle to pay rent by September under current conditions, without additional housing assistance.

Zack Neumann and Sam Gilman, the organization’s founders, presented some of the findings from their national research during a NLIHC webinar last week. The project estimated that 26 million people in 11 million households will struggle to pay rent by September under current conditions, without additional housing assistance.

Rental households will also face a mountain of rental debt. Millions of renters protected by eviction moratoria will have back rent due when those orders expire. The project estimates that rental debt will total almost $46 billion by September and approach $90 billion by the end of the year if current conditions do not change.

With Americans overwhelmingly supporting eviction protections, emergency rental assistance and a strong government role in helping them keep their homes during this crisis, Congress should act quickly. Providing the assistance needed to keep people safely housed during the pandemic will “flatten the curve” on the number of people who cannot pay their rent and the amount of rental debt low-income renters will face down the road.

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