Soaring COVID-19 Cases Exacerbate Housing Inequality Problems Across the USA

In a December 18 report from the Brookings Institute, researchers have found that skyrocketing COVID-19 cases are making housing inequality worse. The government has made no effort to mitigate the pandemic or housing inequality. A recent survey of Americans shows that the impact of COVID-19 on homeowners has worsened since the beginning of summer. The Brookings Institute took a look at how housing hardships have changed since June and since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 Survey

The Brookings Institute developed, tested and implemented a survey called the Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19. It was administered by the Social Policy Institute at St. Louis's Washington University. The survey was sent out from late April to early May and again in late August. More than 5,000 surveys were sent to a nationally representative population of Americans. The survey focused on questions related to eviction and foreclosure, rent or mortgage delinquency and utility payments.

Results of the Survey

The analysis of wave two of the survey, which took place in August, shows that the impact of COVID-19 on homeowners is getting worse. People who reported their race or ethnicity as African American or Hispanic had worse impacts than white people. Younger adults had worse impacts from COVID-19 than older adults.

Responses to the Foreclosure Question

The eviction and foreclosure rate for all respondents doubled in the survey's second wave of responses. Those numbers were driven by African American and Hispanic households. Their eviction rate increased by 7% compared to 2% for Caucasians. African American respondents were twice as likely to have to move out of their apartment or home compared to Caucasians. Rent and mortgage delinquency also went up by similar amounts, with African American and Hispanic respondents reporting rates three or more times higher than those of Caucasians. This gap has widened since the first wave of the survey. The analysts predict that the gap will grow wider if the pandemic continues and no mitigation strategies are implemented.

Age and Housing Problems

Race and ethnicity aren't the only factors in housing hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Young adults reported a big increase in housing difficulties between the first and second waves of the survey. Adults ages 18 to 39 reported the most housing hardships. They were followed by middle-age adults. Older adults were the least likely to face housing hardships. Older adults did not show a significant increase in housing hardships between waves one and two of the survey. Young and middle-age adults did show increases in housing instability. Both of these groups reported higher rates in eviction or foreclosure and mortgage or rent delinquency. Young adults were twice as likely to be facing homelessness or delayed payments than older adults. One possible reason is that young adults were more likely to lose their jobs, while older adults were more likely to be living on a pension, Social Security or other fixed-income payments that haven't been affected by the pandemic. Older adults are more likely to have savings than younger adults.

Housing Instability Could Get Worse

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is expected to get worse this winter before enough people are vaccinated to make a difference in case rates, hospitalizations or deaths. An estimated 30 to 40 million people could lose their apartments or homes when the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures ends. This moratorium was put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August, and it was extended through 2020.

Available Protections for Vulnerable People

The moratorium on evictions expires on December 31. It was just a delay in eviction proceedings in county courts. On January 1, 2021, the courts can begin processing eviction filings. Most experts agree that proactive remedies are needed to stop a deluge of homelessness. Those efforts should focus on the underserved populations and private landlords. Some people have suggested the use of a universal housing voucher. Those vouchers would provide essential income for mom-and-pop landlords. They would also reduce homelessness and discrimination of voucher holders. However, the Republicans in the United States House of Representatives and Senate have spoken out against this type of expansive relief. The United States Department of Treasury estimates that about $134.5 billion would be needed to solve this problem. Some states have allocated CARES Act money to help people catch up on rent or utility payments. However, CARES Act funds also expire on December 31.

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