The California Immigrant Data Portal: Tracking Progress and Informing Strategy For a More Inclusive and Equitable California

The California Immigrant Data Portal provides data and case studies to better understand and promote the well-being of immigrants, their families, and their communities.

The California Immigrant Data Portal (CIDP), a project of the Equity Research Institute (ERI) at USC, is a resource and progress tracker for immigrants and those serving immigrant communities in California. CIDP provides data and case studies to better understand and promote the well-being of immigrants, their families, and their communities. Indicators on the portal are organized into four categories, including demographics and three critical components of immigrant integration: economic mobility, warmth of welcome, and civic participation. CIDP’s indicators and data summaries draw from federal, state, and local data sources and include current and historical data for counties, sub-county areas, cities, and the state, disaggregated by immigration status, race, and ancestry. 

CIDP data is available for the nine counties in the Bay Area region (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma counties) and for six large Bay Area cities including Antioch, Fremont, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and Sunnyvale. Available demographic data includes nativity, undocumented immigrants, arrival in the US, and refugees. Indicators of immigrant integration include economic contributions, education, employment, occupation, wages, housing burden, English fluency, deportations, and hate crimes. Learn more about the California Immigrant Data Portal here

ERI developed the Bay Area Equity Atlas in partnership with the San Francisco Foundation and PolicyLink. ERI’s work centers on promoting narratives to support the integration of diverse communities, immigrant and US-born alike; lifting up the intersection of racial justice and immigrant rights; and strengthening the base for inter-sectoral collaborations. ERI’s immigrant integration work is anchored by three guiding principles:

  • Immigrant integration is everyone’s business;

  • Successful immigrant integration can only happen when we lift up racial justice and address longstanding inequities; and

  • California must lead on immigrant integration and seek to provide a model for the rest of the nation.

Learn more about ERI here.

Fewer and Fewer Small Businesses Are Getting Federal Contracts

Our analysis of federal data shows that the number of small businesses contracting with the federal government shrank dramatically over the past decade and federal purchasing — and the economic opportunities it generates — is highly concentrated in just a few congressional districts.

By Sarah Treuhaft, Eliza McCullough, Michelle Huang, and Tracey Ross

The federal government is the nation’s largest purchaser of goods and services, spending more than half a trillion dollars on contracts every year. This buying power is a crucial catalyst for equitable economic development across the country, creating scores of opportunities for businesses along a vast supply chain. Recognizing the value of its purse, the federal government has an official policy to ensure that small businesses, as well as entrepreneurs who face systemic barriers to business development and growth, have “maximum practicable opportunity” to access these contracting opportunities. 

In 2020, the federal government spent 26 percent of its contracting budget on small businesses (a total of $145.7 billion), exceeding its goal of 23 percent. Yet, our review of federal data reveals that while the total dollar amount going to small businesses has increased, the number of small businesses doing business with the federal government has plummeted over the past decade. About forty percent fewer small businesses fulfilled federal contracts in 2020 compared with 2010, and every year, fewer and fewer small companies sell their goods and services to the federal government. 

This dramatic decline in contracting opportunities matters because of the outsized role that small businesses — and particularly small businesses owned by people of color — must play in an equitable recovery and economic future. Research has shown that in the face of chronic labor market discrimination, segregation, and disinvesment in communities of color, businesses owned by people of color are more likely to hire people of color than other firms and also generate increased economic activity in communities of color. Entrepreneurship can also help close the racial wealth gap. But while workers of color start businesses at above-average rates, persistent barriers to accessing capital, networks, and business support translate into lower revenue growth for entrepreneurs of color. Federal contracting is an important pathway for business expansion and growth that can have ripple effects in communities that bear the heaviest burdens of structural racism and were hit hardest by the pandemic.

Here are key findings from our review of the data.

There has been a dramatic decline in the number of small business doing business with the federal government over the past decade

In 2010, about 125,000 small businesses contracted with the federal government. That number has shrunk year after year and by 2020, just under 76,000 small businesses fulfilled federal contracts — a 39 percent decline. Although a larger share of federal contracts are going to small businesses, fewer small businesses — and fewer communities — are benefiting from these business opportunities.

In addition to the shrinking overall number of small businesses contracting with the federal government, fewer small businesses are newly entering into federal contracts. While the federal government contracted with 23,000 new small business vendors in 2012, in 2019 just 9,400 new small businesses entered the federal marketplace.

Less than 16 percent of total government procurement is from small businesses owned by people of color and women

Today, people of color are 39 percent of the population and own 29 percent of all American businesses, yet entrepreneurs of color receive less than 12 percent of federal government contracting dollars.* While this exceeds the official contracting goal of five percent, it is far from being proportionate and even further from proactively advancing racial equity in business ownership. And while women own 42 percent of American companies and women of color start businesses at the fastest rate of all racial/gender groups, the federal government fell shy of meeting its 5 percent contracting goal for small women-owned businesses in 2020.

Federal contracts with small businesses are highly concentrated in just a few communities — exacerbating spatial inequities

Examining the geographic spread of federal contracts to small businesses, we found that federal contracts are highly concentrated in just a few congressional districts. There are 17 congressional districts that each had more than $1 billion in small business contracts with the federal government in 2020 — 12 of them in Virginia and Maryland. While federal contracts do go to businesses located in every congressional district, these 17 districts — which are home to just four percent of the population — received 43 percent of small business procurement. As economic opportunity continues to concentrate in a smaller number of communities, achieving greater spatial equity in federal procurement is a critical strategy to foster shared prosperity and an inclusive recovery.

The Build Back Better Plan offers solutions to unlock contracting opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs of color

As Congress debates more than $4 trillion in spending on infrastructure and President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, leveraging federal procurement to strengthen and rebuild local economies is a public and policy priority. One element of the proposed Build Back Better Plan is a set of programs through whic the Small Business Administration will partner with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other institutions that serve communities of color to uplift the next generation of Black-, Latinx-, and Tribal-owned small businesses through federal contracting. Together, these programs would invest $2.4 billion over ten years to establish business incubators and business development programs in underrepresented communities and support small businesses to meet evolving technological needs. 

A 2019 pilot conducted with the Bowie State University, an HBCU, shows that this type of support works: the University's accelerator program worked with 32 companies that went on to secure $26 million in government contracts. 

Given the clear trend of declining contracting opportunities, this plan to democratize access to federal contracts and foster inclusive business development is a timely intervention to ensure an equitable recovery and economic future.

 

*The federal government sets contracting goals for “small disadvantaged businesses” which are at least 51 percent owned by one or more people “who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society because of their identities as members of groups and without regard to their individual qualities.” 

Homeownership is Unattainable for Most Bay Area Black, Latinx, Cambodian, and Pacific Islander Households

Our analysis of data on homeownership rates across the nine-county Bay Area reveals persistent inequities in access to wealth-building opportunities across race, nativity, ancestry, and place.

Homeownership can be a critical pathway to economic security and mobility, helping lower-income people build wealth that can be used to pay for education or other productive investments — but it remains out of reach for too many households, especially low-income people of color. This month, we added Homeownership as the 22nd indicator on the Bay Area Equity Atlas to democratize data on  homeownership rates by race, gender, nativity, ancestry, and geography between 2000 and 2019, the most recent year for which this data is available. This analysis highlights key insights from this data from the Great Recession through the long economic recovery until right before the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Nearly two-thirds of White households in the region own their homes — nearly twice the share of Black households 

There are stark differences in homeownership rates by race/ethnicity. Across the broad racial/ethnic groups, White households in the Bay Area are most likely to own their homes (63 percent) — nearly twice as likely as Black households (34 percent). Homeownership rates are also lower for Latinx (40 percent), multiracial (45 percent), and Native American (46 percent) households. 

Although six in 10 Asian or Pacific Islander (API) householders own their homes, large disparities are evident within this diverse population. Analyzing homeownership rates by ancestry shows that less than half of Pakistani (43 percent), Laotian (45 percent), Thai (46 percent), Korean (46 percent), and Pacific Islander (41 percent) households own their homes. Cambodian households have the lowest rate of homeownership among API households at 39 percent, though it is important to note that this represents significant progress since 2010 when just 29 percent of Bay Area’s Cambodian population owned their own homes. Taiwanese households have the highest rates of homeownership (72 percent) among API households and across all racial/ethnic ancestry groups. Disparities by ancestry within the Asian or Pacific Islander population in the Bay Area often hold true for other markers of economic security as well.

Racial disparities in homeownership stem in part from income gaps between White households and households of color. Median earnings for Black, Latinx, Native American, and multiracial households in the Bay Area fall below $55,000 per year, whereas White households earn a median annual income of $92,100. The median annual income of Asian or Pacific Islander households is $82,300, but given the diversity of this group, earnings vary considerably across API communities by ancestry. 

Black households are the only racial/ethnic group in the Bay Area that experienced consistent declines in homeownership, while Latinx households experienced the largest post-foreclosure crisis dip in homeownership rates  

Homeownership rates across the region, which held steady between 2000 and 2010, declined slightly from 58 to 56 percent over the last decade. This drop stems from the rise in renting after the foreclosure crisis, increase in housing costs, and stagnant wages, especially for low- and middle-wage workers. Regional and statewide rates are similar (56 percent compared with 55 percent statewide) and followed a similar trend over the last two decades. 

In 2000, 41 percent of Black households in the region owned homes; but by 2010 the share had declined to 37 percent, and by 2019 only 34 percent of Black households owned their homes. Black homeownership rates also declined over both of these time periods in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties, in the city and county of San Francisco, and in the cities of Oakland and San Jose. 

For Bay Area Latinx households, the share of homeowners increased between 2000 and 2010 (from 45 to 46 percent), but then declined by 2019 to 40 percent — the largest post-foreclosure-crisis decline in homeownership of any racial/ethnic group. This steep decline also held true for large cities including Fremont, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and Sunnyvale, and for all counties except for Marin and Napa.

Following overall regional trends, the share of White homeowners increased slightly between 2000 and 2010 but experienced a small dip the following decade. Trends were similar for White homeowners in Oakland, San Francisco, and Sunnyvale, with little variation across counties. 

Contrary to overall regional trends, the share of API homeowners in the region rose slightly over each time period. This was also true across most counties. Trends in API homeownership varied across large cities including Fremont, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and Sunnyvale, likely due to the diversity of API populations across those communities. 

Unlike most other racial/ethnic groups, the share of Native American homeowners in the region decreased slightly between 2000 and 2010 and rose over the last decade. Data on homeownership rates for Native American households is unavailable for large cities and most counties due to small sample size.

Between 2000 and 2019, The largest decline in homeownership rates across race/ethnicity was among Black homeowners in Solano County (down 10 percentage points). Black homeowners also saw the largest declines in Contra Costa (-8 percentage points), Santa Clara (-8 percentage points), and San Francisco (-7 percentage points) counties. Black and Latinx homeowners were hardest hit in Alameda County (each down 7 percentage points), while Latinx homeowners experienced the largest decline in homeownership in Sonoma County (-6 percentage points). Multiracial residents experienced the largest decline in homeownership rates in San Mateo (-9 percentage points) and Marin (-4 percentage points) counties. Data is unavailable for most racial/ethnic groups in Napa County due to small sample size.

Native American households in Alameda County experienced the largest gains in homeownership rates between 2000 and 2019 (increased 10 percentage points), followed by Latinx households in Napa (+8 percentage points), Asian or Pacific Islanders households in Marin County (+7 percentage points), and multiracial households in Sonoma County (+ 6 percentage points). 

Although nearly half of Native American households own their homes, there is a large gender gap

Examining homeownership rates by both race and gender reveals that Native American men are much more likely to own homes compared with Native American women — 54 percent versus 38 percent, respectively. There is also a gap among Black and multiraical homeowners across gender, with Black men and multiracial men more likely to own than women. There are narrower differences in homeownership rates for men and women among other racial and ethnic groups.

Immigrants (especially Black and Latinx immigrants) are less likely to reap the benefits of homeownership than their U.S.-born counterparts

Except for Asian or Pacific Islander immigrants, Bay Area immigrants across all racial and ethnic groups are less likely than their US-born counterparts to own homes. Although Black and Latinx immigrants are least likely to be homeowners (31 and 36 percent, respectively), U.S.-born Black and Latinx households as well as Native American and multiracial households overall have much lower homeownership rates than both immigrant and U.S.-born White and Asian homeowners. Across ancestry, people of Ethiopian/Eritrean ancestry are least likely to own their homes among all racial and ethnic ancestries in the region: just 18 percent of Ethiopian or Eritrean households own homes. Guatemalan households also have one of the lowest homeownership rates at 22 percent. 

Black, Latinx, and White immigrants in the region have lower homeownership rates than their US-born peers. Among Black immigrant homeowners, Ethiopian or Eritrean immigrants have the lowest homeownership rates (18 percent) based on available data. Guatemalan (20 percent), Mexican (35 percent), Salvadoran (35 percent), Peruvian (37 percent), and Nicaraguan (37 percent) immigrant homeowners tend to have lower homeownership rates than their US-born Latinx counterparts. Although 64 percent of US-born White households own homes, 56 percent of White immigrants own. Immigrant homeowners who are Turkish (39 percent), Ukrainian (43 percent), Romanian (43 percent), Russian (46 percent), French (53 percent), Canadian (54 percent), and Iranian (56 percent) tend to be less likely to own compared with their US-born White peers.

Racial disparities in homeownership persist across income levels

While higher incomes correlate with higher levels of homeownership, racial inequities persist even when you look at households with similar incomes, revealing how structural racism perpetuates the generational racial wealth gap. Looking at households in the region earning below 350 percent of the federal poverty level — the threshold that the Bay Area Equity Atlas uses for economic insecurity — we still see large disparities in homeownership rates across race. Nearly half of economically insecure White households own homes, which is more than double the share of economically insecure Black households.

People of color still bear the brunt of racist housing policies that locked people out of homeownership opportunities and economic mobility

As an asset-building tool, homeownership depends on access to affordable, sustainable mortgage financing as well as home appreciation rates, both of which are affected by discriminatory lending practices and racial segregation. Wealth also plays a significant role in homeownership and vice versa, and the racial wealth gap is notably larger than the income gap. The long history of racial oppression and segregation in the United States, through which people of color have been dispossessed and excluded from economic prosperity, has contributed to a large racial wealth gap: In 2016, the median net worth of White households was $143,600 but only $21,420 for Latinx households and $12,920 for Black households. 

This racial wealth gap, along with racist housing policies such as redlining (denial of home loans in Black neighborhoods) and racially restrictive covenants that barred Black residents and other people of color from purchasing homes, prevented generations of people of color from becoming homeowners. As homeownership remains one of the most widely available and effective ways to increase wealth over generations, the lack of parental homeownership within communities of color today further diminishes the wealth of the current generation and their ability to purchase a home. 

To make matters worse, people of color, and Black residents in particular, have been  disproportionately impacted by both the foreclosure crisis that fueled the Great Recession and the current economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. The impact of the foreclosure crisis on these largely Black and Latinx households was especially devastating. Nationwide, the foreclosure crisis obliterated Black and Latinx median net worth by an estimated 44 and 48 percent, respectively, between 2007 and 2013. In the Bay Area and across the country, lenders targeted predatory home loans in Black neighborhoods, filling a void in home financing created from redlining decades earlier. Even among applicants with similar credit and financing profiles, the share of Bay Area Black and Latinx households receiving subprime loans was double and more than triple that of White households, respectively. More recently, the onset of the Covid-driven recession has disproportionately impacted communities of color and lower-income communities who have suffered the greatest job losses and mortgage defaults, adding to the catastrophic health impacts of the pandemic. 

Grow an equitable economy: Policies to increase sustainable homeownership

Several strategies exist to expand and sustain homeownership opportunities for immigrants, women, and people of color, especially Black and Latinx households. These strategies include promoting shared equity homeownership models, such as community land trusts, Tenant Opportunity to Purchase policies (TOPA), and limited equity cooperatives; providing down-payment assistance programs for low- and moderate-income homebuyers; enacting a strong homeowner bill of rights; and preventing foreclosures and helping households and neighborhoods recover from them. Learn more about homeownership rates in your community, including additional strategies to address persistent inequities, by exploring the homeownership indicator on the Bay Area Equity Atlas.

Everyone Wins When Our Elected Officials Reflect the Diversity of the Region

While California congratulates Governor Newsom for keeping his post in the recall election last week, we’re taking a moment to appreciate Californians for showing up to vote for our shared future. Voter turnout is always difficult, important work — and one of the difficulties in turning people out to vote in the recall election was that people don’t feel represented by their elected officials.

By Michelle Huang and Kimi Lee of Bay Rising

Our region’s biggest problems — overpolicing in Black, Indigenous, and people-of-color communities, violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander elders, working-class people and renters being left behind during the pandemic — all require community-led voices and solutions. Especially in the context of local budget shortfalls, having elected officials with knowledge of the experiences of our communities is key to  more equitable distribution of resources and priorities.

This is why we need people in office who reflect our diversity and values — including people who are Black, Latinx, Asian, immigrants, queer, and people with disabilities. While representation does not automatically mean equitable policies, it can make a difference. For instance, in San Jose in June 2021, where all districts are majority of-color, the six city councilmembers of color voted to defer the decision on the Berryessa BART Urban Village Plan in support of Latinx organizers’ and La Pulga vendors’ ability to negotiate for fairer agreements, while the four white city councilmembers and the mayor voted against it. La Pulga is home to over 400 largely Latinx and Asian-owned businesses.

For the past four years, the Bay Area Equity Atlas has tracked data on the diversity of elected officials in the Bay Area. Our analysis from the 2020 elections found that across the region, voters elected more people of color to office, following a steady trend over several years. About 34 percent of top elected officials in the Bay Area are now people of color, up from 29 percent in 2019 and 26 percent in 2018.

Despite this steady increase, people of color remain vastly underrepresented, given that they are roughly two-thirds of the Bay’s population. And just over a quarter of Bay Area cities still have zero people of color on their councils.

There is still much work to do. Corporate money, funneled into local elections and coupled with limited access to expertise and financial support for new candidates, makes it challenging for everyday people, renters, community leaders, and people not well-connected to political parties to run and win campaigns.

We know the solutions. We need campaign finance reforms, leadership development programs for those historically excluded from power, and more voter education and voting options to grow the number of community candidates running for office as well as voter participation.

Of these, campaign finance reforms stand out as especially timely. The 2020 federal elections saw more Wall Street financing than any other election cycle in US history, but that corporate money wasn’t reserved for just the presidential race — many millions showed up in both state and local races in the Bay, making it extremely hard for a diversity of candidates to run viable campaigns. For example, in 2020, wealthy donors raised over $300,000 to spend on Oakland school board races, where those same races used to be won with campaigns spending thousands of dollars, not hundreds of thousands. To counteract this trend, we need campaign finance reform that sets limits on corporate contributions, requires transparent budgets and ads, and promotes public financing.

Bay Area policymakers must pass policies that result in more candidates from underrepresented communities getting elected to city and county offices. We deserve to be represented by leaders who reflect our realities.

Kimi Lee is the Executive Director of Bay Rising, a regional alliance of over 30 Bay Area grassroots organizations building political power among working-class people and communities of color. Michelle Huang is an Associate with PolicyLink who provides data and research support as part of PolicyLink’s National Equity Atlas team.

Rent Debt in America: Stabilizing Renters Is Key to Equitable Recovery

Our rent debt dashboard, produced in partnership with the Right to the City Alliance, equips policymakers and advocates with data on the extent and nature of rent debt in their communities to inform policies to eliminate debt and prevent the looming crisis of mass eviction.

By Sarah Treuhaft, Michelle Huang, Alex Ramiller, Justin Scoggins, Abbie Langston, and Selena Tan

Mounting rent debt and the potential for mass eviction is one of the most pressing equity issues created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The vast majority of the millions of renters who are in debt are low-wage workers — disproportionately people of color — who’ve suffered job and income losses due to the pandemic. With the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the federal emergency eviction moratorium on August 26, 2021, these renters are at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness. Allowing an eviction tsunami to take place would be a moral travesty and a policy failure that would deepen inequities at a moment when the federal government has prioritized addressing systemic racism and ensuring an equitable recovery.

To inform policymaking and advocacy to prevent eviction and eliminate rent debt, the National Equity Atlas and the Right to the City Alliance — a network of community-based organizations working in 45 cities and 26 states to prevent displacement, expand affordable housing, and build just, sustainable cities for all — launched this rent debt dashboard in April 2021.

The dashboard provides current data on the number and characteristics of renters behind on rent for the US, states, and 15 metro areas, as well as estimates of the amount of back rent owed. With this release, we’ve added a new “Relief Map” to the dashboard tracking the distribution of federal emergency rental assistance in states, counties, and cities. We’ve also expanded our rent debt estimates to cover all states and counties in the US as well as 562 cities. To provide disaggregated data for sub-national geographies, we combine the two most recent waves of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and use the individual-level microdata in the Pulse public-use file, which is released two weeks after the tabular data. The dashboard data is refreshed approximately every two weeks. Find our full methodology here.

This analysis shares key insights from the dashboard, incorporating data from the August 4 - 16 Pulse survey, along with action steps that local, state, and federal policymakers must take immediately to keep people in their homes.

This is an update to our August 30 analysis, an archive of our past analyses can be found here. The next dashboard update will be directly after the September 22 microdata release.

Rent debt remains at crisis levels: nearly 6 million households are behind on rent, including about 7 million children.

As of mid-August 2021, 5.9 million renter households — 15 percent of all renters — were behind on their rent payments. About half of these households (48 percent) are families with children and we estimate there are 6.7 million children living in these households. This represents an enormous number of renters and their children who are now at risk of eviction and displacement, approaching the scale of the 2008 foreclosure crisis in which nearly 8 million households lost their homes.

Data on the share of households behind on rent comes directly from the Census Pulse survey, which has been asking the question “Is this household currently caught up on rent payments?” every two weeks since mid-August 2020.

The rent debt crisis has not abated over the past four months.

Fourteen percent of renter households were behind on rent the first time the Pulse survey posed this question; the share behind climbed up to 19 percent at the height of the pandemic and economic crisis in January, then crawled back down to 14 percent in March. The rate has remained at 14 - 15 percent behind for the past four and a half months. This is likely about twice the pre-pandemic baseline: the 2017 American Housing Survey found that about seven percent of renters were unable to pay some or all of their rent.


Under the Trump administration, the federal government did not provide any direct resources for rental assistance for the first nine months of the crisis, but in December and January, Congress allocated $46.5 billion toward emergency rental assistance to be distributed by state, local, and tribal governments. By the end of July, however, only $5.1 billion of this rental assistance had been distributed. As our trend data show, these resources are not yet having a measurable impact on renters who are struggling to get out of debt.

The share of renters with debt is much higher in some communities: One in three low-income renters are behind on rent in North Carolina and the District of Columbia.

The share of renters who are behind on rent is much higher than the national average in some communities. One in every five renters are behind in five southern states (Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia) which offer few tenant protections from eviction. North Carolina has the highest share of renters with debt (25 percent).

Focusing specifically on renters with annual incomes of less than $50,000, who are likely to meet the eligibility criteria for federal rental assistance, we see that nationwide, about one in five low-income renter households (19 percent) are behind on rent. But one in three low-income renter households are behind on rent in North Carolina (33 percent) and the District of Columbia (37 percent), and nearly one in three in South Carolina (30 percent). Less than ten percent of low-income renters owe back rent in the states of Arizona, Idaho, North Dakota, and Utah. In terms of sheer numbers, the most populous states are home to the most at-risk households: there are 2.5 million low-income renter households with debt living in California, Florida, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Among the 15 metros included in the Pulse survey, New York, Washington DC, and Miami have the highest shares of low-income renters behind on rent, all at 28 percent. New York is home to the most low-income renters with debt by far (475,700 households), followed by Los Angeles (247,800 households). 


Nationally, we estimate that rent debt amounts to $15 billion.

According to our estimates, total rent debt is $15 billion nationwide. On average, renters are behind three months’ rent and owe $2,550, but these averages mask much higher debts and levels of need for many renters, especially those with the lowest incomes. This is due to two factors. First, renters in higher-cost communities are paying higher rents thus will owe higher amounts: the average debt in the San Francisco Bay Area is $4,300. Second, the lowest income renters are more likely to be much further behind on rent and owe the most back rent. Based on the Pulse survey’s newly-added question about how many months renters with arrears are behind, 43 percent of renters are one month behind, 25 percent are two months behind, 12 percent are three months behind, 12 percent are between four and seven months behind, and 8 percent are eight to 17 months behind. Low-income renters who are further behind owe greater debts: those who are eight or more months behind owe $9,832 on average.

The vast majority of those who are behind on rent are low-income households who lost jobs and income during the pandemic.

The overwhelming majority of households with debt — 85 percent — are households with earnings of less than $50,000 per year, which is generally the group targeted by federal rental assistance programs.

Today’s rent debt crisis is entirely a consequence of the pandemic’s economic fallout: 68 percent of those who were behind on rent in May had lost employment income at some point during the pandemic, according to the May 12-24 Pulse survey. As our other research has shown, low-wage workers, who are disproportionately workers of color, were hardest hit by pandemic job losses and are most likely to suffer from rent debt. Currently, the majority of renters with arrears were not employed within the past week (56 percent).

Renters have made tremendous sacrifices and tradeoffs to stay current on rent, including foregoing medical care, delaying payment of other bills, eating cheaper (and potentially less healthy) food, and voluntarily moving in with friends and family — increasing their risk of Covid-19 exposure while losing their housing stability. The May 12-24 Pulse survey data showed that among low-income households who lost employment income at some time during the pandemic, 73 percent were current on rent. This underscores how paying rent has remained a top priority for all renters throughout the pandemic, despite the moratoria on evictions.

Renters of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are more likely to owe back rent, making them more vulnerable to eviction risk.

Workers of color were hardest hit by the pandemic job losses and thus more likely to fall behind on rent through no fault of their own. Two-thirds of renters with arrears (67 percent) are people of color. Today, 27 percent of Black renters, 19 percent of Latinx renters, 18 percent of Asian or Pacific Islander renters, and 17 percent of multiracial renters are behind on rent, compared to 9 percent of White renters.

Among renters with arrears, Black renters disproportionately expect to be evicted by October: 58 percent of Black tenants with rent debt say they are very or somewhat likely to be evicted, compared with 45 percent of their White counterparts. Other research has shown that Black renters, especially Black women with children, are more frequently evicted by their landlords.


In the United States, renters have little housing security, paltry savings, and few legal protections from exorbitant rent increases or eviction (outside of a few states and cities with strong tenant movements). The rent debt crisis adds another layer to these preexisting inequities. Renters were already in crisis when the pandemic began: about a third of White renters and just under half of Black and Latinx renters were both economically insecure (earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level) and rent burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent). Gender is another important axis: women of color are most likely to be rent burdened, and disproportionately face eviction.

Rent debt is also contributing to the growth of the racial wealth gap. Historic and continuing housing and lending discrimination, as well as systemic inequities in the labor market, have contributed to large racial inequities in homeownership. (Atlas data show that seven in 10 White households own their homes while the majority of Black and Latinx households rent.) While renters, predominantly people of color, currently hold $17 billion in rent debt alone (not including utilities and other debts), homeowners, who are predominantly White, saw a $1.9 trillion increase in their home equity from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021 as competition for a constrained supply of homes drove prices up.

Rental assistance resources are not sufficiently reaching tenants in need.

Over the past couple of months, the federal government has sought to speed up the distribution of rental assistance and the pace picked up in July, but only 11 percent of the allocated resources have been distributed. Our analysis of Treasury data tracking the distribution of the first round of assistance (ERA1) finds that there are 191 cities and counties where less than 25 percent of the funds have been distributed. This list includes many communities with large populations of low-income renters, such as Broward County, Florida; Chicago; Dallas (city and county); King County, Washington; and Los Angeles (city and county).

With the sluggish distribution of rental assistance, millions of renters are in limbo.

In August, the Pulse survey added a question about the status of rental assistance for households with arrears. This new dataset provides insight into how these programs are working and illustrates many of the challenges that renters face in accessing these resources. Nationwide, one in five renters with debt (22 percent) have applied for rental assistance and are awaiting a response. Three in five (62 percent) have not yet applied for rental assistance. One in ten (10.5 percent) applied for and were denied rental assistance.

Rent is not the only debt accumulating for renters.

While our analysis focuses on back rent, renters’ pandemic debt crisis extends far beyond their obligations to their landlords. Many renters are borrowing from family and friends or taking on other forms of debt in order to make rent and pay for household expenses. A University of Pennsylvania survey of California renters who applied for rental assistance found that the majority had about $3,050 in “shadow debt” they borrowed to pay their rent that is not covered by relief programs.

According to the Pulse survey, among households behind on rent, 43 percent borrowed from friends or family to pay for expenses including rent, compared with 16 percent of households current on rent. About 31 percent of all renter households used a credit card (or some other form of debt) to pay rent. Many are behind on other bills, such as utilities or car payments. A survey of water debt in California found that 1.6 million households owed $1 billion on water bills — $500 on average; and in Massachusetts half a million households were 90 days behind on their utilities, averaging $1,000 in debt.

Eliminating Rent Debt is an Equity Imperative and a Moral, Economic, and Public Health Necessity

Today’s rent debt crisis is a microcosm of the wretched inequality of the pandemic: millions of renter households — most of them people of color — now face the burden of owing back rent and the risk of being evicted due to a public health crisis that upended their finances. These unequal consequences are not random, but the predictable result of past policies that left millions of families with no savings to draw upon in the face of an economic shock, as well as the failed early policy response to the pandemic. Although the CARES Act provided important unemployment benefits and cash assistance as well as an eviction moratorium that helped many pandemic-impacted renters, undocumented and mixed-status families were ineligible for assistance and the moratorium ended in July of 2020, leaving renters unprotected until the CDC enacted its moratorium in early September of last year. Moreover, absent meaningful financial assistance to pay back-rent, the moratorium simply delayed eviction, yet the federal government provided no rent relief until December.

Swiftly clearing rent debts is urgently needed to stave off mass eviction, which would directly harm economically vulnerable families and their communities and have long-term ripple effects throughout communities and our economy. Eviction has significant and undeniable negative consequences for mental and physical health, educational outcomes, and household finances. Amidst the continued spread of the Delta variant, evictions will have disastrous impacts on public health: Research during the pandemic found that states that allowed evictions to proceed had more Covid infections and deaths than those with eviction moratoria. And particularly at a time when rents are increasing everywhere, eviction will increase homelessness, with its devastating consequences for health and well-being and significant costs for local governments.

Forgiving rent debt is also essential to an equitable and people-centered recovery: one in which those hardest-hit by the pandemic can fully participate and thrive.

Policymakers Must Take Immediate Action to Prevent Eviction and Clear Rent Debt

The new data underscores the magnitude of the rent debt crisis in communities across the country and the urgency of providing eviction protections and distributing rental assistance to avert the specter of mass eviction and skyrocketing homelessness. Targeted support is particularly needed in places with the most low-income renters with debt, slowest distribution of rental assistance, and weakest tenant protections. But no community is immune to the rent debt crisis. Policymakers everywhere should partner with community-based organizations that have been working with the communities most impacted by both the pandemic and systemic racism to address this immediate crisis and implement long-term solutions to housing insecurity.

At the federal level, Congress should act immediately to pass a national eviction moratorium that lasts through the end of the pandemic. This will give states and local governments the necessary time to deliver rental assistance to those in need. HUD and FHFA should enact an eviction moratorium for all renters living in all federally assisted properties and urge the administration to explore and use any authority it has to institute a moratorium or other eviction prevention requirements on properties that have a federally backed mortgage or multifamily loan. The Department of Justice and Treasury should use their authority to ensure that renters eligible for relief get assistance quickly and are not moved through the court eviction process.

State and local governments and their courts must double down on the important work they are doing by partnering with directly impacted communities and renter advocates to pass and strengthen eviction and utilities shutoff moratoria, streamline the delivery of rent relief, provide access to free legal assistance for renters facing eviction, establish eviction diversion programs. In the absence of moratoria, they should require landlords to apply for rental assistance as a condition of filing evictions (for any reason, not only nonpayment of rent), ensure that renters who’ve applied for assistance are protected from eviction, and extend rent repayment periods for renters who do not receive assistance.

Localities should disaggregate their data on rent relief program performance by geography, income, and race/ethnicity, and make it accessible to housing assistance providers and the general public. Presenting this data in dashboards is critical but insufficient: the data should be provided in downloadable spreadsheets or databases that can be analyzed to inform outreach and assistance efforts and hold leaders accountable for delivering assistance. Localities should also track and democratize data on evictions and rental ownership patterns with a focus on which landlords are responsible for evictions in order to develop long-term policy solutions to prevent eviction and stabilize renters, particularly as recent data indicate an increase in institutional investor ownership through the pandemic and link between corporate landlords and higher rates of eviction.

 

For more local policy ideas and examples, see https://ourhomesourhealth.org.

Rent Debt in America: Stabilizing Renters Is Key to Equitable Recovery

Our rent debt dashboard, produced in partnership with the Right to the City Alliance, equips policymakers and advocates with data on the extent and nature of rent debt in their communities to inform policies to eliminate debt and prevent the looming crisis of mass eviction.

By Sarah Treuhaft, Michelle Huang, Alex Ramiller, Justin Scoggins, Abbie Langston, and Selena Tan

Mounting rent debt and the potential for mass eviction is one of the most pressing equity issues created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The vast majority of the millions of renters who are in debt are low-wage workers —  disproportionately people of color — who’ve suffered job and income losses due to the pandemic. With the Supreme Court’s invalidation of the federal emergency eviction moratorium on August 26, 2021, these renters are at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness. Allowing an eviction tsunami to take place would be a moral travesty and a policy failure that would deepen inequities at a moment when the federal government has prioritized addressing systemic racism and ensuring an equitable recovery.

To inform policymaking and advocacy to prevent eviction and eliminate rent debt, the National Equity Atlas and the Right to the City Alliance — a network of community-based organizations working in 45 cities and 26 states to prevent displacement, expand affordable housing, and build just, sustainable cities for all —  launched this rent debt dashboard in April 2021. 

The dashboard provides current data on the number and characteristics of renters behind on rent for the US, states, and 15 metro areas, as well as estimates of the amount of back rent owed. With this release, we’ve added a new “Relief Map” to the dashboard tracking the distribution of federal emergency rental assistance in states, counties, and cities. We’ve also expanded our rent debt estimates to cover all states and counties in the US as well as 562 cities. To provide disaggregated data for sub-national geographies, we combine the two most recent waves of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and use the individual-level microdata in the Pulse public-use file, which is released two weeks after the tabular data. The dashboard data is refreshed approximately every two weeks. Find our full methodology here.

This analysis shares key insights from the dashboard, incorporating data from the July 21 - August 2 Pulse survey, along with action steps that local, state, and federal policymakers must take immediately to keep people in their homes. 

This is an update to our April 21, May 25, July 7, and August 10 analyses. The next dashboard update will be directly after the September 8 microdata release.

Rent debt remains at crisis levels: more than 6 million households are behind on rent, including about 7 million children.

As of the first week of August 2021, 6.2 million renter households — 15 percent of all renters — were behind on their rent payments. Half of these households (51 percent) are families with children and we estimate there are 6.9 million children living in these households. This represents an enormous number of renters and their children who are now at risk of eviction and displacement, approaching the scale of the 2008 foreclosure crisis in which nearly 8 million households lost their homes.

Data on the share of households behind on rent comes directly from the Census Pulse survey, which has been asking the question “Is this household currently caught up on rent payments?” every two weeks since mid-August 2020.

The rent debt crisis has not abated over the past four months.

Fourteen percent of renter households were behind on rent the first time the Pulse survey posed this question. The share behind climbed up to 19 percent at the height of the pandemic and economic crisis in January, then crawled back down to 14 percent in March, where it has lingered for the past four months. This is likely about twice the pre-pandemic baseline: the 2017 American Housing Survey found that about seven percent of renters were unable to pay some or all of their rent.


Under the Trump administration, the federal government did not provide any direct resources for rental assistance for the first nine months of the crisis, but in December and January, Congress allocated $46.5 billion toward emergency rental assistance to be distributed by state, local, and tribal governments. By the end of July, however, only $5.1 billion of this rental assistance had been distributed. As our trend data show, these resources are not yet having a measurable impact on renters who are struggling to get out of debt. 

There are six states where at least one in four low-income renters are behind on rent.

The share of renters who are behind on rent is much higher than the national average in some communities. At least one in four low-income renters are behind on rent in Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and the District of Columbia. New York has the highest share of low-income renters with arrears (31 percent), followed by New Jersey (30 percent), and  South Carolina (28 percent). Less than ten percent of low-income renters owe back rent in the states of Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming.

In terms of sheer numbers, the most populous states are home to the most at-risk households: there are 2.6 million low-income renter households with debt living in California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Illinois.

Among the 15 metros included in the Pulse survey, New York has the highest share of low-income renters with debt (32 percent), followed by Houston and Washington DC (28 percent). New York is home to the most low-income renters with debt by far (539,600 households), followed by Los Angeles (226,600 households).


Nationally, we estimate that rent debt amounts to $16.8 billion.

According to our estimates, total rent debt is $16.8 billion nationwide. On average, renters are behind three months’ rent and owe $2,730, but these averages mask much higher debts and levels of need for many renters, especially those with the lowest incomes. This is due to two factors. First, renters in higher-cost communities are paying higher rents thus will owe higher amounts: the average debt in the San Francisco Bay Area is $4,660. Second, the lowest income renters are more likely to be much further behind on rent and owe the most back rent. Based on the Pulse survey’s newly-added question about how many months renters with arrears are behind, 44 percent of renters are one month behind, 30 percent are two months behind, 12 percent are three months behind, 12 percent are between four and seven months behind, and 10.5% are eight to 16 months behind. Among low-income renters, one in four (25 percent) are at least four months behind, compared to 13 percent of renters with incomes above $50,000 per year. Low-income renters who are further behind owe greater debts: those who are eight or more months behind owe $9,435 on average (and in the Bay Area, its an average of $14,076). 

The vast majority of those who are behind on rent are low-income households who lost jobs and income during the pandemic.

The overwhelming majority of households with debt — 84 percent — are low-income households with earnings of less than $50,000 per year, which is generally the group targeted by federal rental assistance programs. Nationwide, one in five low-income households are behind on rent. 

Today’s rent debt crisis is entirely a consequence of the pandemic’s economic fallout: 68 percent of those who were behind on rent in May had lost employment income at some point during the pandemic, according to the May 12-24 Pulse survey. As our other research has shown, low-wage workers, who are disproportionately workers of color, were hardest hit by pandemic job losses and are most likely to suffer from rent debt. Currently, the majority of renters with arrears were not employed within the past week (55 percent).

Renters have made tremendous sacrifices and tradeoffs to stay current on rent, including foregoing medical care, delaying payment of other bills, eating cheaper (and potentially less healthy) food, and voluntarily moving in with friends and family — increasing their risk of Covid-19 exposure while losing their housing stability. The May 12-24 Pulse survey data showed that among low-income households who lost employment income at some time during the pandemic, 73 percent were current on rent. This underscores how paying rent has remained a top priority for all renters throughout the pandemic, despite the moratoria on evictions.

Renters of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are more likely to owe back rent, making them more vulnerable to eviction risk.

Workers of color were hardest hit by the pandemic job losses and thus more likely to fall behind on rent through no fault of their own. Two-thirds of renters with arrears (66 percent) are people of color. Today, 26 percent of Black renters, 19 percent of Latinx renters, 19 percent of multiracial renters, and 17 percent of Asian or Pacific Islander renters are behind on rent, compared to 10 percent of White renters. 

Among renters with arrears, Black renters disproportionately expect to be evicted by October: 56 percent of Black tenants with rent debt say they are very or somewhat likely to be evicted, compared with 45 percent of their White counterparts. Other research has shown that Black renters, especially Black women with children, are more frequently evicted by their landlords.


In the United States, renters have little housing security, paltry savings, and few legal protections from exorbitant rent increases or eviction (outside of a few states and cities with strong tenant movements). The rent debt crisis adds another layer to these preexisting inequities. Renters were already in crisis when the pandemic began: about a third of White renters and just under half of Black and Latinx renters were both economically insecure (earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level) and rent burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent). Gender is another important axis: women of color are most likely to be rent burdened, and disproportionately face eviction.

Rent debt is also contributing to the growth of the racial wealth gap. Historic and continuing housing and lending discrimination, as well as systemic inequities in the labor market, have contributed to large racial inequities in homeownership. (Atlas data show that seven in 10 White households own their homes while the majority of Black and Latinx households rent.) While renters, predominantly people of color, currently hold $17 billion in rent debt alone (not including utilities and other debts), homeowners, who are predominantly White, saw a $1.9 trillion increase in their home equity from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021 as competition for a constrained supply of homes drove prices up. 

Rental assistance is not sufficiently reaching tenants in need. 

Over the past month, the federal government has sought to speed up the distribution of rental assistance and the pace picked up in July, but only 11 percent of the allocated resources have been distributed as of the end of July. Our analysis of Treasury data tracking the distribution of the first round of assistance (ERA1) finds that there are 191 cities and counties where less than 25 percent of the funds have been distributed. This list includes many communities with large populations of low-income renters, such as Broward County, Florida; Chicago; Dallas (city and county); King County, Washington; and Los Angeles (city and county).

With the sluggish distribution of rental assistance, millions of renters are in limbo. 

The rollout of emergency rental assistance has been riddled with challenges including complicated and confusing application processes, which the Treasury is now seeking to streamline, as well as the refusal of some landlords to participate. In August, the Pulse survey added a question about the status of rental assistance for households with arrears. This new dataset provides insight into how these programs are working and illustrates many of the challenges that renters face in accessing these resources. Nationwide, one in five renters with debt (22 percent) have applied for rental assistance and are awaiting a response. Three in five (62 percent) have not yet applied for rental assistance. One in ten (12 percent) applied for and were denied rental assistance.

Rent is not the only debt accumulating for renters.

While our analysis focuses on back rent, renters’ pandemic debt crisis extends far beyond their obligations to their landlords. Many renters are borrowing from family and friends or taking on other forms of debt in order to make rent and pay for household expenses. A University of Pennsylvania survey of California renters who applied for rental assistance found that the majority had about $3,050 in “shadow debt” they borrowed to pay their rent that is not covered by relief programs. 

According to the Pulse survey, among households behind on rent, 51 percent borrowed from friends or family to pay rent, compared with 14 percent of households current on rent. About 30 percent of all renter households used a credit card (or some other form of debt) to pay rent. Many are behind on other bills, such as utilities or car payments. A survey of water debt in California found that 1.6 million households owed $1 billion on water bills — $500 on average; and in Massachusetts half a million households were 90 days behind on their utilities, averaging $1,000 in debt.

Eliminating Rent Debt is an Equity Imperative and a Moral, Economic, and Public Health Necessity

Today’s rent debt crisis is a microcosm of the wretched inequality of the pandemic: millions of renter households — most of them people of color — now face the burden of owing back rent and the risk of being evicted due to a public health crisis that upended their finances. These unequal consequences are not random, but the predictable result of past policies that left millions of families with no savings to draw upon in the face of an economic shock, as well as the failed early policy response to the pandemic. Although the CARES Act provided important unemployment benefits and cash assistance as well as an eviction moratorium that helped many pandemic-impacted renters, undocumented and mixed-status families were ineligible for assistance and the moratorium ended in July of 2020, leaving renters unprotected until the CDC enacted its moratorium in early September of last year. Moreover, absent meaningful financial assistance to pay back-rent, the moratorium simply delayed eviction, yet the federal government provided no rent relief until December.

Swiftly clearing rent debts is urgently needed to stave off mass eviction, which would directly harm economically vulnerable families and their communities and have long-term ripple effects throughout communities and our economy. Eviction has significant and undeniable negative consequences for mental and physical health, educational outcomes, and household finances. Amidst the continued spread of the Delta variant, evictions will have disastrous impacts on public health: Research during the pandemic found that states that allowed evictions to proceed had more Covid infections and deaths than those with eviction moratoria. And particularly at a time when rents are increasing everywhere, eviction will increase homelessness, with its devastating consequences for health and well-being and significant costs for local governments. 

Forgiving rent debt is also essential to an equitable and people-centered recovery: one in which those hardest-hit by the pandemic can fully participate and thrive.

Policymakers Must Take Immediate Action to Prevent Eviction and Clear Rent Debt 

The new data underscores the magnitude of the rent debt crisis in communities across the country and the urgency of providing eviction protections and distributing rental assistance to avert the specter of mass eviction and skyrocketing homelessness. Targeted support is particularly needed in places with the most low-income renters with debt, slowest distribution of rental assistance, and weakest tenant protections. But no community is immune to the rent debt crisis. Policymakers everywhere should partner with community-based organizations that have been working with the communities most impacted by both the pandemic and systemic racism to address this immediate crisis and implement long-term solutions to housing insecurity.

At the federal level, Congress should act immediately to pass a national eviction moratorium that lasts through the end of the pandemic. This will give states and local governments the necessary time to deliver rental assistance to those in need. HUD and FHFA should enact an eviction moratorium for all renters living in all federally assisted properties and urge the administration to explore and use any authority it has to institute a moratorium or other eviction prevention requirements on properties that have a federally backed mortgage or multifamily loan. The Department of Justice and Treasury should use their authority to ensure that renters eligible for relief get assistance quickly and are not moved through the court eviction process.

State and local governments and their courts must double down on the important work they are doing by partnering with directly impacted communities and renter advocates to pass and strengthen eviction and utilities shutoff moratoria, streamline the delivery of rent relief, provide access to free legal assistance for renters facing eviction, establish eviction diversion programs. In the absence of moratoria, they should require landlords to apply for rental assistance as a condition of filing evictions (for any reason, not only nonpayment of rent), ensure that renters who’ve applied for assistance are protected from eviction, and extend rent repayment periods for renters who do not receive assistance. 

Localities should disaggregate their data on rent relief program performance by geography, income, and race/ethnicity, and make it accessible to housing assistance providers and the general public. Presenting this data in dashboards is critical but insufficient: the data should be provided in downloadable spreadsheets or databases that can be analyzed to inform outreach and assistance efforts and hold leaders accountable for delivering assistance. Localities should also track and democratize data on evictions and rental ownership patterns with a focus on which landlords are responsible for evictions in order to develop long-term policy solutions to prevent eviction and stabilize renters, particularly as recent data indicate an increase in institutional investor ownership through the pandemic and link between corporate landlords and higher rates of eviction.

 

For more local policy ideas and examples, see https://ourhomesourhealth.org.

Rent Debt in America: Stabilizing Renters Is Key to Equitable Recovery

Our rent debt dashboard, produced in partnership with the Right to the City Alliance, equips policymakers and advocates with data on the extent and nature of rent debt in their communities to inform policies to eliminate debt and prevent the specter of mass eviction.

By Sarah Treuhaft, Michelle Huang, Alex Ramiller, Justin Scoggins, Abbie Langston, and Jamila Henderson

Mounting rent debt and the potential for mass eviction is one of the most pressing equity issues created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The vast majority of renters who are in debt are low-wage workers — disproportionately people of color — who’ve suffered job and income losses due to the pandemic. As of August 3rd, the federal eviction moratorium was temporarily extended to October 3rd for a more narrow subset of renters. While this extended order will cover the majority of renter households, when the order expires at the beginning of October, the renter households that still hold debt and lack protection by state or local moratoria will be at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness. Allowing this eviction tsunami to take place would be a moral travesty and a policy failure that would deepen inequities at a moment when the federal government has prioritized addressing systemic racism and ensuring an equitable recovery.

To inform policymaking and advocacy to prevent eviction and eliminate rent debt, the National Equity Atlas and the Right to the City Alliance launched a rent debt dashboard in April 2021 with near real-time data on the number and characteristics of renters behind on rent for the US, most states (currently 40 states), and 15 metro areas.* The dashboard also provides estimates of the amount of back rent owed for these geographies, as well as estimates for the number of households with debt and the amount owed for all counties in the states. Drawing current data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and the University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research's Understanding Coronavirus in America survey, the dashboard data is refreshed approximately every two weeks. Find our full methodology here.

Born out of the need for accessible, current data to inform local and state campaigns, the dashboard was produced in partnership with the Right to the City Alliance, a network of community-based organizations working in 45 cities and 26 states to prevent displacement, expand affordable housing, and build just, sustainable cities for all.

This analysis shares key insights from the dashboard, based on the June 23 - July 5 Pulse survey, along with action steps that local, state, and federal policymakers can take to stabilize the people most negatively impacted by the pandemic and facilitate equitable recovery by addressing the challenge of rent debt.

This is an update to our April 21, May 25, and July 7 analyses. We will be updating our dashboard and this analysis after the August 11 Pulse data release.

Rent debt continues to be a significant issue, with 6.4 million renter households behind on rent.

As of the first week of July 2021 6.4 million renters — 15 percent of all renter households — were behind on their rent payments. The federal eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention enacted in September 2020 provided these renters with some protection from eviction but will expire on October 3. And even now, the temporary eviction moratorium order does not apply to all renter households who might be at risk. A few states and cities still have moratoria banning eviction for nonpayment of rent. However, most renters with arrears live in the vast majority of states and cities that do not have moratoria and they are at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness. As a point of comparison, nearly 8 million households lost their homes to foreclosure due to the 2008 financial crisis.

The Pulse survey has been asking the question “Is this household currently caught up on rent payments?” every two weeks since August 2020. Nationally, the current share of renters with debt is down from a high of 19 percent in mid-January, but remains far higher than the pre-pandemic baseline. While data on rent debt is sparse, the 2017 American Housing Survey found that about seven percent of renters were unable to pay some or all of their rent.

South Carolina and Georgia have the highest share of renters with arrears among the 40 states analyzed.

The share of renters who are behind on rent is much higher than the national average in some states and metro areas. Among the 40 states with sufficient data to include in our analysis, South Carolina has the highest share of renters with arrears (28 percent), and at least 20 percent of renters are behind in the states of Georgia, New York, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Idaho and Montana have the lowest shares of renters with debt, at 6 and 4 percent, respectively.

Among the 15 metros included in the Pulse survey, New York and Riverside have the highest share of renters with debt (24 percent), followed by Seattle (21 percent), and Atlanta and Philadelphia (both at 19 percent). Phoenix and Miami are tied for the lowest share of renters in arrears among the 15 metros (8 percent).

Nationally, we estimate that rent debt amounts to about $21 billion.

According to our estimates, households that are behind on rent owe $3,300 on average, for a total of $21.3 billion nationwide. As this average suggests, the majority of households who are behind owe one or two months of back rent. However, a smaller but not insignificant number of renters have not been able to pay rent for many months and owe much larger amounts. Our analysis of the University of Southern California’s Understanding Coronavirus in America national survey finds that approximately 28 percent are one month behind, 22 percent are two months behind, 15 percent are three months behind, and the remaining 35 percent are more than three months behind.

The average amount owed depends primarily on local housing costs, so it varies significantly across states and metros. Among states, Hawaii has the highest average rent debt per behind-household ($5,600), while Arkansas has the lowest ($2,100). At the metro level, San Francisco and Washington DC have the highest average debts ($5,800 and $5,200, respectively), while Detroit has the lowest average debt by far ($2,500), followed by Phoenix ($3,200).

Our national estimates of rent debt fall somewhere in the middle of existing projections in terms of total debt, and on the lower end in terms of per household amount. In January, Moody’s Analytics projected that 6.3 million renters would owe a total of $33 billion in rent debt by March, at an average of $5,282 per household. Stout Analytics estimated that between two and five million renter households owed between $13 and $24 billion as of January. Both Moody’s and Stout used the Pulse survey to inform their estimates of the number of households behind. Using a very different methodology based on modeling employment losses, income supports, and spending choices at the household level, and not incorporating the Pulse survey data, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia estimated that 1.8 million renter households would owe $11 billion in rent in March, at approximately $6,100 per household.

With the incipient recovery, the number of renters with debt has declined nationwide since its peak in January, but has remained at 14 percent since late March. Most states and metros are following this decline.

Nationwide, the share of renters with debt trended downward from a high of 19 percent in January to 14 percent in late March, and has held steady around 14 percent for the past couple of months. Nearly all states and metros followed this general downward trend since their peaks. Between January and the beginning of July, the rates of renters behind on rent rose in only nine states, the District of Columbia, and four metro.

Among states, Georgia saw the largest spike in arrearages (from 18 to 25 percent behind), followed by Oregon (from nine to 12 percent). Missouri saw the most improvement (from 27 to 12 percent behind).

Among metros, Seattle saw the highest increase (from 13 to 21 percent behind). Dallas saw the greatest decrease (from 27 to 10 percent).

The vast majority of those who are behind on rent are low-income households who’ve lost jobs and income during the pandemic.

Today’s rent debt crisis is entirely a consequence of the pandemic’s economic fallout: 68 percent of those who were behind on rent in May had lost employment income at some point during the pandemic, according to the May 12-24 Pulse survey which asked respondents this question. As our other research has shown, low-wage workers, who are disproportionately workers of color, were hardest hit by pandemic job losses and are most likely to suffer from rent debt. Among households with rent debt, 81 percent are low-income (with earnings less than $50,000 per year) and 64 percent are renters of color. The majority (51 percent) are currently unemployed.

Renters have made tremendous sacrifices and tradeoffs to stay current on rent, including foregoing medical care, delaying payment of other bills, eating cheaper (and potentially less healthy) food, and voluntarily moving in with friends and family — increasing risk of Covid-19 exposure while losing their housing stability. One of the most surprising facts in the data is the high share of low-income renters who are paid in full: Among low-income households that lost employment income during the pandemic, 73 percent were not behind on rent as of May (also according to the May 12-24 Pulse survey).* This underscores how paying rent has remained a top priority for all renters throughout the pandemic, despite the moratoria on evictions.

Rent is not the only debt accumulating for renters.

While our analysis focuses on back rent, renters’ pandemic debt crisis extends far beyond their obligations to their landlords. Many renters are borrowing from family and friends or taking on other forms of debt in order to make rent and pay for household expenses. Among households behind on rent, 46 percent borrowed from friends or family to pay rent, compared with just 15 percent of households current on rent. About 30 percent of all renter households, whether behind or current on rent, used a credit card (or some other form of debt) to pay rent. Many are behind on other bills, such as utilities or car payments. A survey of water debt in California found that 1.6 million households owed $1 billion on water bills — $500 on average.

Renters of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are more likely to owe back rent, making them more vulnerable to eviction risk.

In the United States, renters are already a more vulnerable population as a whole: they have little housing security, paltry savings, and few legal protections from exorbitant rent increases or eviction (outside of a few states and cities with strong tenant movements). Historic and continuing housing and lending discrimination, as well as systemic inequities in our labor market, have contributed to large racial inequities in homeownership. Atlas data show that seven in 10 White households own their homes while the majority of Black, Latinx, and multiracial households rent.

The challenge of unaffordable rents and flat wages add to this underlying housing insecurity among renters. Renters were already in crisis when the pandemic began: about a third of White renters and just under half of Black and Latinx renters were both economically insecure (earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level) and rent burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent). Gender is another important axis: women of color are most likely to be rent burdened, and disproportionately face eviction.

Covid-19 added yet another layer of inequity to these preexisting disparities. Today, 24 percent of Black renters, 17 percent of Asian or Pacific Islander and Latinx renters, and 18 percent of multiracial renters are behind on rent, compared to 9 percent of White renters.

Eliminating Rent Debt is an Equity Imperative and a Moral, Economic, and Public Health Necessity

Today’s rent debt crisis is a microcosm of the wretched inequality of the pandemic: millions of renter households – most of them people of color – now face the burden of owing back rent due to a public health crisis that had extremely concentrated negative economic impacts on low-wage workers. These unequal consequences are not random, but the predictable result of past policies that left millions of families with no savings to draw upon in the face of an economic shock, as well as the failed early policy response to the pandemic. Although the CARES Act provided important unemployment benefits and cash assistance as well as an eviction moratorium that helped many pandemic-impacted renters, undocumented and mixed-status families were ineligible for assistance and the moratorium ended in July, leaving renters unprotected until the CDC enacted its moratorium in early September. Moreover, absent meaningful financial assistance to pay back rent, the moratoria simply delay eviction. Yet, the federal government provided no rent relief until December, nine months into the pandemic.

The magnitude of rent debt is a crisis in and of itself and the leading indicator of a potential eviction tsunami that would be a humanitarian disaster. Rent debt adds a heavy burden onto families who are already financially insecure and struggling during the pandemic, further limiting their choices and creating additional stress. It’s also contributing to the growth of the racial wealth gap: while renters, predominantly people of color, currently hold $20 billion in debt, homeowners, who are predominantly White, saw a $1.9 trillion increase in their home equity from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021 as competition for a constrained supply of homes drove prices up. At a time when racial equity is at the forefront of the policy debate, eliminating rent debt that has unfairly and unequally accrued for people of color should be an urgent priority.

Clearing rent debt is also key to staving off the specter of mass eviction, which would directly harm economically vulnerable families and their communities and have long-term ripple effects throughout our economy. Eviction has significant negative consequences for mental and physical health, educational outcomes, and household finances. Some evicted families and individuals would become homeless, with devastating consequences for long-term health and well-being as well as significant costs for local governments.

The health impacts of eviction and homelessness are even more severe during a pandemic. Research during the pandemic found that states that allowed evictions to proceed had more Covid infections and deaths than those with eviction moratoria. Although the vaccination campaign is in full swing and Covid cases are low in most states, there are hotspots with high infection rates and the longer-term picture remains uncertain.

Forgiving rent debt is also essential to an equitable and people-centered recovery: one in which those hardest-hit by the pandemic can fully participate and thrive.

For an Equitable and Just Recovery, Policymakers Must Clear Rent Debt and Prevent Eviction

Recognizing the catastrophic impact of mass eviction, policymakers have responded, albeit belatedly, by enacting eviction moratoria and establishing rent relief funds. The federal CDC eviction moratorium scheduled to expire last month was temporarily extended through October 3 for most renter households, and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) passed in January provided $21.5 billion for rental assistance programs as well as $350 billion in fiscal support for state and local governments, some of which could be allocated toward debt relief. The December 27 coronavirus relief bill also provided $25 billion in funding for rental assistance.

With the federal moratorium expiring in just a couple months and many state and local emergency rent relief programs supported by the ARP just getting off the ground, there is an urgent need to clear the debts of all tenants in need to prevent mass eviction. Throughout the pandemic, rent relief programs have not been reaching all of those in need. These programs must be structured to meet the scale of the crisis, both to efficiently deliver resources and to ensure that resources are distributed equitably, reaching the low-income renters of color who were both hardest hit by the pandemic and already housing insecure before Covid-19. Renters also need stronger eviction protections, including access to free legal assistance and eviction diversion programs. States and localities should extend their eviction moratoria until the pandemic rent debt crisis has subsided.

As they design rent relief programs, local and state policymakers should implement policies that adhere to the following equitable, common sense principles:

  • No renter, regardless of immigration status, should be evicted or burdened with years of debt for rent that they were unable to pay during the pandemic.
  • Rent debt due to the pandemic should be fully forgiven and should not be conditioned on landlords’ acceptance of funds or participation in programs.
  • Financial assistance to landlords should address the fiscal needs of landlords in danger of going out of business due to lost rent, with a particular focus on keeping small community-based landlords and nonprofit affordable housing operators solvent, rather than attempting to achieve full rent replacement for all landlords. California’s program, negotiated with the state’s landlord association, provides an example: landlords receive 80 percent of back rent owed.
  • Local municipalities’ authority to pass stronger eviction and debt protection laws should be preserved.
  • Landlords should continue to fulfill their legal obligations to tenants regardless of whether they receive assistance, including the duty to maintain habitable premises, refrain from harassment and retaliation against tenants, and respecting tenants’ legal rights.

    For more local policy ideas and examples, see https://ourhomesourhealth.org

    * The number of renter respondents to the Pulse survey for Arkansas, Delaware, Maine, Mississippi, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming was insufficient to produce reliable data to include in the dashboard.

    More People of Color Are Running For and Winning Local Offices, But Bay Area Electeds Still Do Not Represent the Region’s Diversity

    The share of electeds of color increased after the 2020 elections, reflecting steady progress. However across the region, people of color are still underrepresented in top elected offices with many cities without even a single elected of color.

    By Michelle Huang and Kimi Lee of Bay Rising*

    The Bay Area is one of the most diverse regions in the nation, but this diversity is not well reflected in the halls of political power, where top local elected officials remain disproportionately White. While racial representation alone does not automatically translate into equitable policies, it matters. Without political representation, it is harder for communities that face discrimination and structural racism to have their issues considered in the policy process. On the other hand, when individuals from traditionally excluded communities are elected to office, they bring critical community knowledge and relationships with them. This can result in better policies and increased trust and a sense of belonging, strengthening multiracial democracy and increasing the vitality of our region. 

    Recognizing the importance of political representation to regional equity, the Bay Area Equity Atlas tracks this metric through our Diversity of Electeds indicator. To examine how well the Bay Area’s top elected officials represent the diversity of the region’s population, we assembled a unique dataset on the race/ethnicity and gender of the mayors and councilmembers of the region’s 101 municipalities, and the county supervisors and district attorneys for the region’s nine counties. We have collected data for four points in time to reflect electeds holding office from 2018 to 2021.

    This analysis both updates our previous research on the diversity of electeds and provides a new, unique exploration of the diversity of candidates for elected office in cities that have recently switched from at-large to district-based elections. Over the past decade, 33 Bay Area cities have made the switch to district-based elections as a response to the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and potential lawsuits. District-based elections can be a valuable tool to increase the diversity of the candidate pool for local office, as candidates run specifically in their district rather than campaigning at the city level. This gives residents in each district, especially in historically marginalized communities whose votes are diluted at a city level, more voting power to determine their representation on city council. 

    Our key findings include:

    • About 34 percent of top elected officials in the Bay Area are now people of color, up from 29 percent in 2019 and 26 percent in 2018. Despite this steady increase, people of color remain highly underrepresented since they make up 60 percent of the total population.
    • Across the region, the share of elected officials who are Black increased from 6 percent to 8 percent, but 74 of 101 Bay Area municipalities still have no Black city councilmembers.
    • Over the past several years, the share of Asian American electeds has remained around 10 percent, far below the 25 percent of the general population who are Asian American. 
    • Latinx electeds gained 16 new positions; however, Latinx people only represent 13 percent of Bay Area elected positions despite comprising nearly a quarter of the region’s population. 
    • District-based elections show promise as a way to increase representation compared to at-large elections. Places that switched to district-based elections in recent years are seeing an increase in the diversity of candidates for local office.

    Despite notable wins for candidates of color in the last couple of years, the region continues to lag behind widespread political representation for people of color. Campaign finance and election reforms and investments in programs that support people of color in running for elected office as well as increased voter engagement efforts are all needed to ensure that the region’s diversity is truly reflected in local elected offices.

    In the November 2020 election, people of color gained 29 additional local and county positions, and now hold 34 percent of elected seats.

    In the November 2020 elections, people of color gained 29 additional seats among top elected officials, nudging the total share of electeds of color up from 29 to 34 percent. The region gained 16 Latinx electeds, 8 Black electeds, and two Asian American electeds across counties and cities. Among the region’s 101 cities and towns, 28 gained at least one person of color in their city council representation.

    With each election, the Bay Area’s electeds are becoming more diverse and reflective of the region’s demographics: in 2018 (the year we first began collecting this data), 26 percent of electeds were people of color. 

    Despite this steady increase in political representation in the region, people of color remain vastly underrepresented in local government. While people of color make up 60 percent of the total population in the region, they hold 34 percent of top elected positions. Focusing on cities and towns, a quarter of Bay Area cities still have no people of color represented in their city government. Sixty-five cities and towns saw no change, and seven cities and towns lost one elected of color.

    The share of elected officials who are Black increased from 6 percent to 8 percent at the regional level, but 74 of 101 Bay Area municipalities have no Black city councilmembers.

    Progressive policies and bold leadership are required to rectify the decades of anti-Black policies that have created racial disparities in income, employment, and educational outcomes. While representation alone does not always equate with equitable change, having elected officials who share the lived experiences of Black communities is a key step in advancing progressive policies.  

    In the region as a whole, the share of elected officials who are Black increased from 6 percent to 8 percent, and is now slightly above the share of the region’s population that is Black (6 percent). Twelve cities/towns gained at least one Black elected, and the city of Hercules in Contra Costa County elected two new Black officials. 

    However, the majority of Bay Area cities — 74 out of 101 — have no Black elected officials. This means that 88,000 Black Bay Area residents (one in five Black residents) have no Black official representing them in city council. These include the residents of American Canyon, Brentwood, East Palo Alto, Lafayette, and Richmond, the five cities/towns that lost Black officials in the 2020 elections.

    Over the past several years, the share of Asian American electeds has remained around 10 percent, far below the 25 percent of the general population who are Asian American.**

    During the pandemic, there has been a disturbing increase in violence against Asian American residents, especially among those who are working class, older, and with low English proficiency. Visibility and political representation is one way in which Asian American residents can assert public voice and power. However, Asian American communities are vastly underrepresented among Bay Area elected officials.

    Twelve cities added an Asian American elected to their city council (with Santa Clara seeing the highest increase at two electeds). At the same time, 10 cities also saw a decrease in Asian American electeds. In four of these cities, the position was replaced by a White elected. While Vallejo lost two of its three Asian American electeds, other people of color won those positions. Since 2018, Vallejo’s city council has remained firmly at 43 percent White in a city that is only 24 percent White. 

    Overall, 65 Bay Area cities and towns do not have any Asian American electeds, even though 761,800 Asian American residents, or 40 percent of the region’s Asian American population, live in these cities. Most notably, San Jose, home to one in five of the region’s Asian American residents, does not have a single Asian American city councilmember.

    The Asian American community in the Bay Area is large and diverse, and not all ancestry groups are represented equally by electeds. Those with Chinese and Filipino ancestry make up 8 and 4 percent of the region’s population, respectively, but each of these groups only make up 3 percent of the region’s electeds. Residents with Indian, Korean, and Vietnamese heritage are also underrepresented by one to two percentage points. And there are no electeds with Pacific Islander ancestry. 

    Latinx electeds gained 16 new positions; however Latinx people only represent 13 percent of Bay Area elected positions despite being nearly a quarter of the region’s population.

    The Latinx population is one of the fastest-growing groups in the Bay Area, and Latinx representation in local government has also increased in recent years. Eighteen cities and towns saw an increase of at least one elected official who is Latinx. Healdsburg added two new Latinx elected officials, and Redwood City, which has had a majority White city council since at least 2018 when we began data collection, elected two new Latinx city councilmembers and one new Asian American city councilmember, making the city council majority people of color. 

    Despite this increase in Latinx electeds, this progress has not occurred evenly across the region and Latinx residents remain woefully underrepresented in office. About one in four Bay Area residents are Latinx, but just 13 percent of electeds are Latinx. One in five Latinx residents in the region live in the 55 municipalities without a single Latinx elected official.

    Shifting from At-Large to District-Based Elections Shows Promise as a Strategy to Diversify Candidates for Elected Office

    Over the past three years, a wave of Bay Area cities have shifted from at-large to district-based elections. Twenty-six out of the 33 cities that use district-based elections in the Bay Area have created district-based positions since the 2018 elections. While some cities, including Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, and Woodside, have had district-based councilmembers since the late 1970s, this shift is largely influenced by the passing of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 which encourages municipalities to adopt district-based elections to increase fair representation of different racial groups in city government. District-based elections lower the cost of entry for candidates by allowing them to focus time, money, and resources on the constituents of a smaller geography compared to running a costly citywide campaign. Creating city council districts also increases the voting power of specific racial/ethnic communities whose votes may be diluted in a citywide election, especially in localities where they are the minority.

    To examine the near-term results of changing to district-based elections, we analyzed 20 of those 33 cities and compared the racial/ethnic composition of candidates in the two election cycles prior and up to two election cycles after switching to city district-based elections. Using information available on campaign websites, voting guides, and social media, we collected the race/ethnicity and gender of the candidates and sent email confirmations to candidates offering them the opportunity to edit their information. We were able to collect data for 708 out of 967 candidates. We focused on the 20 cities for which we had data for more than half of the candidates. It is important to note that it is too soon to fully assess the impact of the switch to district elections in these cities, since many sitting officials were elected prior to the switch to district-based elections; however, this early look provides some insights.

    Most cities saw an increase in the share of candidates of color after implementing district-based elections.

    Out of the 20 cities with sufficient candidate data, 12 cities saw an increase in the share of candidates who were people of color after changing to district-based elections; seven cities saw a decrease; and one city saw no change. 

    Livermore saw the highest increase in the share of candidates who are people of color, from 0 to 50 percent. Redwood City saw the second highest increase, from 18 percent in the 2015 and 2018 election cycles to 56 percent in the 2020 election. Half Moon Bay went from having no candidates of color to over a third of candidates being people of color. In Fremont, the number of people of color running for city council more than doubled, from six to 13. Martinez had no candidates of color in the election cycles immediately before and after the switch.

    The diversity of candidates is of course impacted by the size of the overall candidate pool. In Menlo Park, Morgan Hill, and San Francisco, the absolute number of candidates of color increased while their share within the candidate pool decreased. Menlo Park saw an increase of four more candidates of color, but the overall candidate pool also increased by 10 people in the period after switching to districts. Our analysis suggests that switching to district-based elections does not have an immediate impact on the absolute number of candidates who run for office: after the switch, the overall candidate pool increased in six cities and decreased in 13 cities.

    We also explored whether the growth of populations of color in these cities appeared to play a role in producing more diverse candidate pools. From 2010 to 2019, the 20 cities have seen modest growth in the share of the population composed of people of color (ranging from zero to nine percentage points growth). We found no patterns of correlation between citywide demographic change and changes in the diversity of candidates. Redwood City, for example, saw one of the largest increases in candidates of color but virtually no growth in percentage of residents of color between 2010 and 2019.

    Prior to its implementation of district-based voting, Half Moon Bay had an all-White city council since we started collecting data on electeds in 2018. After the change, in the 2020 election, the city’s first Latinx councilmember won the seat for District 3 in the heart of the city, defeating the incumbent mayor with 63 percent of the vote.

    The 2020 election was the first election since Redwood City created city council districts. At least one person of color ran for office in each of the four districts that were up for election, and a person of color won the position in all four districts. This is vastly different from the 2018 election, when all candidates were White, and the 2015 election, in which only two people of color ran for office. 

    Policies to Increase Pathways to Political Representation

    The recent trend toward more diverse and representative local government is promising. While the scope of our data collection does not include age, sexual orientation, or immigration status, the November 2020 election saw many historic wins from young people, progressive leaders, LGBTQ folks, and immigrants. For example, Lissette Espinoza-Garnica was elected to city council in Redwood City, making them the first nonbinary elected official in the Bay Area. San Francisco also elected Myrna Melgar and Connie Chan, who are immigrant women, as supervisors.

    There is still much work left to do. Representation of Latinx and Asian American residents in elected office has a long way to go in order to fairly reflect the region’s diversity. Especially in the context of rising anti-immigrant and anti-Asian violence across the nation, having local electeds with knowledge of the experiences of these communities is key to fostering trust between local government and residents. Strengthening the leadership pipeline of Black residents into positions of power across the region, and not in just a few cities, is another essential step to build community power and advance anti-racist policies. 

    Building a more equitable Bay Area requires dismantling barriers that have historically kept people of color, low-income and working-class communities, immigrants, and other marginalized groups from political power. With so few people of color in elected positions, young people of color have little legacy of electoral leadership, or elders teaching them why it matters and how to do it. For some immigrants who came to this country after living in military dictatorships and other oppressive government regimes, there is trauma associated with elections and rampant corruption. Language access continues to present a barrier, and many immigrant families are focusing intensively on work and education, leaving little time for political involvement. Working-class people in the region are already stretched to make rent, find affordable childcare, and secure living-wage jobs, especially amidst a pandemic. When polling stations or ballot drop-off boxes are not conveniently located or if early voting and mail-in voting options are limited, it is no surprise that many would choose to prioritize meeting the demands of their life over casting a ballot.

    Myriad institutional barriers hinder people of color from getting involved in government elections. Over the last few years, wealthy donors have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into local races, making it very difficult for someone without private wealth to successfully run a campaign, especially for at-large elections. Lack of adequate translation or interpretation for non-English speakers makes it difficult to fully comprehend what is on the ballot or what is being proposed. Black and Brown people have been the target of the criminal justice system, with over-policing and high rates of incarceration, which also pushes their communities away from political engagement. The displacement crisis in the region also deters involvement: people who are housing insecure or who are new to an area are not inclined to run for office. Lack of access to childcare makes it harder for mothers to find time to run. Childcare as a campaign expense is a new concept and was just recently approved as an allowable expense. In addition, lifelong politicians and political parties serve as gatekeepers and often choose their successors rather than supporting grassroots leaders connected to community organizations.

    Bay Area funders and policymakers must address these barriers and advance policy changes and programs that result in more candidates from underrepresented communities getting elected to city and county elected offices, especially in communities where people of color are severely underrepresented. Below are some of the concrete actions that government officials, agencies, and the private sector can take to increase election accessibility and voting power.

    • Local city and county governments should pass structural reforms including public campaign financing and campaign finance reform to curtail corporate contributions, secret Super PACs, and “pay-to-play” politics.
    • Cities should consider shifting from at-large to district-based elections. Cities should use independent commissions to ensure that districts are drawn and distributed in an equitable and just manner.
    • Local and national philanthropies and corporations should fund equity-oriented leadership development programs that prepare people from underrepresented communities of color to effectively engage in public policy.
    • Funders, political leaders, and donors should invest in training and support systems for candidates from underrepresented communities to run electoral campaigns, as well as community-based programs that support new elected officials from underrepresented communities once they are in office.
    • Policymakers and funders should support voting reforms and civic engagement efforts that increase voter registration and turnout among underrepresented communities, especially in local elections.
    • Local boards of elections should ensure that polling locations and ballot drop-off boxes are distributed fairly across their jurisdictions and increase accessibility to early voting and mail-in voting options.

    * Kimi Lee, director of Bay Rising, serves on the Equity Campaign Leaders Advisory Committee of the Bay Area Equity Atlas. Bay Rising is the only regional civic engagement organization that organizes with working-class people and people of color as voters in the Bay Area year-round. Bay Rising is the umbrella network for San Francisco Rising, Oakland Rising, and Silicon Valley Rising, and represents over 30 grassroots organizations in the Bay Area.

    ** Data for Asian Americans in the overall population refers to the Asian or Pacific Islander racial/ethnic category.

    The analysis was updated on September 30, 2021 to reflect corrections in the race/ethnicity data for two councilmembers in Concord and San Rafael. The previous analysis reported that Concord had one city council member of color and it was corrected to none. And it reported that San Rafael had no Asian American city council member and it was corrected to one.

    Most California Rideshare Drivers Are Not Receiving Health-Care Benefits under Proposition 22

    A survey of more than 500 drivers reveals that California rideshare drivers, particularly Latinx drivers, are struggling to access health insurance and a safe workplace.

    By Eliza McCullough and Brian Dolber of Rideshare Drivers United*

    In 2020, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and other tech industry giants led a referendum campaign to exempt themselves from classifying their workers as employees under a California state law known as AB5. Spending a record-shattering $220 million, the companies argued that Proposition 22 would protect California’s app-based workers’ “flexibility” while providing benefits, including health insurance stipends, and safety trainings. Proposition 22 passed on the November 2020 ballot, with 58 percent of the vote. 

    In fact, the companies’ victory stripped drivers of basic employment rights, including health-care benefits, an hourly minimum wage, and health and safety standards. Labor law professor Veena Dubal called Proposition 22 “the most dangerous law to workers since Taft-Hartley,” which dramatically restricted unions, arguing that it sets a dangerous precedent for employment standards across industries. 

    While the industry campaign focused on Prop 22’s worker protections, these protections are narrowly defined in the law and are not equal to the legal protections given to employees. Drivers are eligible for a partial stipend to cover health insurance premiums, and only if they meet multiple qualifications. [1] Prop 22 also required that companies administer safety trainings to all drivers, which must include information about how to report instances of sexual harassment or assault. This requirement, however, is much weaker than protections employees have under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. With the outbreak of the coronavirus, the loss of guaranteed health insurance and workplace safety standards have caused unprecedented health risks for drivers.

    To understand whether drivers are accessing benefits, we conducted a survey of California-based drivers who are members of Rideshare Drivers United (RDU), asking them about their access to health insurance, health insurance stipends, and safety trainings. The survey was conducted between May 19 and June 12, 2021, and was completed by 531 drivers. Given the racial inequities apparent in the survey data, we sought to better understand the experiences of drivers of color with follow-up interviews. We conducted 10 interviews with uninsured drivers of color who have driven since January 2021. Two of these interviews were conducted in Spanish, with primarily Spanish-speaking drivers. See the endnotes for the Spanish version of quotes from these interviews.

    Our survey revealed the following:

    • Just 10 percent of respondents are receiving a stipend while 40 percent of respondents either never heard about their ability to qualify for the stipends or weren’t sure if they had received notification. 
    • Drivers are either turning to public health-care options or forgoing health insurance altogether: Twenty-nine percent of respondents rely on Medi-Cal. Sixteen percent of all respondents are uninsured which is double the national uninsurance rate
    • Latinx respondents are less likely to know about the stipends and are also more likely to be uninsured. 
    • One in six respondents have not received a safety training from a rideshare or delivery company.

    Many drivers we interviewed expressed frustration with the challenges in getting insurance under Prop 22, and most saw it as part of a larger pattern of deception and disregard for the workforce by Uber and Lyft. In some cases, drivers reported significant hardship in obtaining medical care. 

    To immediately improve access to health care and workplace safety, we recommend removing health-care stipend restrictions, improving transparency of stipend rollout, targeting outreach to drivers who are more likely to be uninsured, and improving implementation of safety trainings. Long-term policy changes are also needed to create a rideshare industry that provides quality jobs. California legislators should repeal Prop 22 and other state legislators should prevent the passage of Prop 22 clones. The federal government also has an important role to play in ensuring just working conditions and a living wage for all gig workers through policies such as the PRO Act as well as a single-payer, national health insurance program.

    A majority people-of-color and immigrant workforce.

    Among our survey respondents, 65 percent are people of color, 52 percent were born outside the US, and 37 percent speak a language other than English as their primary language. Eighty-five percent of respondents drive for Uber, 68 percent drive for Lyft, and 59 percent of respondents drive for a food delivery service (like Uber Eats, Postmates, or DoorDash). Sixty-six percent of respondents drive for more than one platform and 75 percent have driven since January 1, 2021 when Prop 22 took effect. Fifty-one percent of respondents were over the age of 50 and 21 percent of respondents were over age 60, making their access to health insurance particularly important. There is no quality source of driver demographic data to assess the representativeness of this sample. However, a recent study of San Francisco drivers shows that like our respondent population, the majority of drivers are people of color, immigrants, over 30 years old, and drive for multiple platforms.

    Uber and Lyft are failing to adequately notify their drivers about their ability to qualify for health insurance stipends.

    Forty percent of drivers surveyed do not recall being notified about the stipends, with large differences across racial/ethnic groups. Latinx drivers are least likely to know about the stipends: about half of Latinx drivers don’t recall receiving any notification or aren’t sure.

    One 31-year-old male Latinx driver in Los Angeles noted, “No one ever reached out and said what it was.” The lack of communication from the companies does not surprise him. “To be honest, they don’t care about drivers. I knew [the promises of Prop 22 weren’t] going to come true.” 

    Those who were notified said they received emails or text messages from the companies. Information alone, however, has not meant accessibility. For example, one 36-year-old male, Spanish-speaking driver in Los Angeles, said, “I received an email with the information. On the app there is also the hours tallied that you need in order to qualify for the voucher. I also worked DoorDash during the pandemic. I was jumping all over the platforms, Uber, LYFT, DoorDash. With Uber I have to spend 20 hours with a passenger to qualify, weekly. They lied to drivers about the medical insurance because I'm out here working and I don’t have insurance.” [2] Narrow eligibility requirements, on top of poor communication, has made accessing insurance stipends difficult for many drivers, especially drivers of color. 

    Prop 22 reduced access to health care: fewer than one in five drivers are receiving health-care stipends.

    Prop 22 requirements have not made up for drivers’ lost right to health care as the vast majority of drivers do not receive health-care stipends. This is largely due to the narrow requirements to qualify for stipends under Prop 22. In order to qualify, drivers must not receive health care through Medicare, Medi-Cal, another job, or a partner or spouse. Drivers also must drive at least 15 engaged hours per week on one app to receive the minimum stipend. Drivers have also reported that they must “show a proof of health insurance within a certain time frame prior to applying for the stipend,” indicating that drivers who are uninsured may also not qualify. Together, these requirements prevent the vast majority of drivers from accessing the health-care stipends promised under Prop 22. 

     

     

    Many drivers are ineligible because they have seen their income decline during the pandemic, and thus have reduced their hours. One 49-year old male driver in Los Angeles, and his 18-year old son, have both been without insurance for nine months for this reason. “The pricing has gone down to 50 cents [per mile], so I’m very rarely driving these days,” he said. 

    While he did not vote for Prop 22, he supported it. “I thought I’d get free insurance,” he said. “I feel stressed.” He says his son had a medical emergency, and he had to rely on Medi-Cal, the public insurance program, to cover expenses. “I’m worried about me. I’m almost 50 and I don’t know what’s going to happen if I just keep driving for Uber and Lyft.” 

    The 36-year-old male, Spanish-speaking driver in Los Angeles noted, “Drivers feel duped. These companies spent so much money on propaganda. They control the platform. As drivers we have no control. These changes from the companies look cute until the truth is revealed. The hours needed to qualify are too much for what is fair. They lied to us. Uber has been making too many changes without input from drivers.” [3]

    One 66-year-old male driver in the San Diego area says he does not drive enough to receive a stipend because he took on an additional job to make ends meet. He says he is fortunate to live in Tecate near the US-Mexico border. He crosses the border to receive affordable care. “Some of the best doctors are in Mexico,” he said. “If you wait 15 minutes it’s too long.”   

    Among survey respondents who have driven since Prop 22 took effect and don’t receive health insurance through a public program or their spouse, only 19 percent are actually receiving health-care stipends. People who identify as multiracial or a racial group outside of those listed on the survey were least likely to receive a stipend. Even if only 50 percent of drivers are meeting Prop 22’s engaged-time qualifications (an estimate we think is conservative), a shockingly low share of drivers are receiving health care stipends. 

    Some drivers also said that the stipends are too low to cover expenses. One 53-year-old male driver in Sacramento has been uninsured since 2010 and has had significant medical expenses over the years, including dental work and kidney stones. But he says even with the stipend, an insurance plan is still too expensive because the stipend only covers a portion of the premium. “I refuse to pay for something like that,” he said. “I’m not going to pay to live. I can’t afford it.” He noted that his car payments eat up much of his income, making insurance unaffordable.

    Latinx drivers are the least likely to be insured among all racial/ethnic groups: a quarter of Latinx drivers do not have health insurance.

    The lost right to health insurance caused by Prop 22 has forced many drivers to forgo health insurance: sixteen percent of drivers are uninsured, which is twice as much as the national uninsurance rate. Latinx drivers are most likely to lack insurance, with a quarter of respondents indicating that they are uninsured. 

    One 25-year-old male, Spanish-speaking driver in Los Angeles, said, “I do not have health insurance, I haven't had it since I worked with Uber. I've worked three years here in the US, the whole time I've been with Uber.” [4]

    The 36-year-old male, Spanish-speaking driver in Los Angeles noted he has been without insurance for a year and a half. He said, “I'm diabetic. I have to prepare my medicine. If I don't pay I have to take on debt with the hospitals. I went to the hospital in Glendale, my bill was $900. I went recently and qualified for emergency medical care. I have gone to the emergency room twice in a year.” [5]

    We found that drivers are most likely to rely on the public system: nearly one-third of respondents get health insurance through Medi-Cal. This finding indicates that many drivers are also struggling financially as Medi-Cal is primarily reserved for people below 138 percent of the poverty line. We also found that half of all respondents receive insurance through Medi-Cal, Medicare, or a partner or spouse, which automatically disqualifies them from receiving health-care stipends. Through these narrow requirements, Prop 22 allows Uber and Lyft to save billions on the health insurance costs that they were required to pay before the legislation was enacted.

    Uber and Lyft are failing to provide drivers with adequate safety protections.

    In lieu of legally mandated health and safety protections guaranteed to employees, Proposition 22 mandates safety training for app-based workers. Ninety-three percent of our 531 respondents had driven since January 1, 2021, when Proposition 22 took effect. Therefore, Uber and Lyft are required to provide these drivers with safety trainings. However, the companies have failed to provide a training to one in six drivers who responded to our survey. We also found that drivers who identify as multiracial or as a racial category not included in the survey were least likely to have received a training than drivers of other racial groups. This oversight is particularly harmful to women and LGBTQ drivers, who are more likely to experience harassment and violence while working. Without adequate training on how to respond to and report instances of harm, drivers are at risk of danger while on the job. 

    Policy changes are urgently needed to increase workplace safety and access to health care for rideshare drivers.

    Our study reveals that the rollout of protections outlined in Proposition 22 is unpredictable, uneven, and inadequate. Rather than rectifying the problems app-based drivers face, Prop 22 has intensified drivers’ vulnerability to health and safety risks as well as feelings of confusion and disillusionment. This has been particularly acute among Latinx drivers, who are the least likely to know about the health-care stipends and be insured. Rideshare companies and regulatory agencies must take immediate steps to improve access to health care and workplace safety for drivers. 

    • Companies must remove restrictions on the health-care stipend. The stipend should cover 100 percent of the average monthly premium for a Covered California Bronze plan. Drivers’ total work time, rather than engaged work time, should be counted when calculating stipend qualification. 
    • Regulatory agencies must improve transparency of stipend rollout by requiring that companies report the percentage of drivers who receive stipends disaggregated by race and ethnicity on a quarterly basis to ensure that everyone who can qualify for a stipend is actually receiving one. 
    • Uber, Lyft, and other companies need to provide targeted outreach to drivers who are more likely to be uninsured. Information about how to qualify for and receive a health-care stipend should be available in multiple languages and formats. 
    • Rideshare companies must improve implementation of safety trainings by ensuring that all drivers receive trainings and providing public data on the percentage of drivers who have completed trainings. These trainings should also highlight information about how to report instances of sexual assault or harassment.

    While these changes will immediately improve working conditions for millions of drivers, long-term policy action must be taken to create a rideshare industry that benefits everyone. 

    • California legislators must repeal Prop 22 and reclassify rideshare drivers as employees, restoring all labor rights stripped with its passage. Uber, Lyft, and other gig companies are already funding campaigns for legislation identical to Prop 22 in New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, and other states nationwide. 
    • State policymakers and labor advocates must protect crucial rights for drivers and prevent the passage of this legislation
    • Even without the reclassification of drivers as independent contractors through this legislation, current protections are not enough: federal policymakers must ensure just working conditions and a living wage for all gig workers through policies such as the PRO Act
    • Policymakers should establish a single-payer, national health insurance program alongside expanded pathways to citizenship to provide everyone in the US with comprehensive coverage to ensure that workers across all industries have access to free, quality health care. 

    * Brian Dolber is an Associate Professor of Communication at California State University San Marcos, and an organizer with Rideshare Drivers United. Rideshare Drivers United is an independent association of US rideshare drivers coming together to demand higher pay and workplace rights for all rideshare drivers.

    This survey is the first in a series of analyses co-produced by the National Equity Atlas and Rideshare Drivers United examining the impacts of Prop 22 on rideshare drivers. The authors thank Sarah Treuhaft and Michelle Huang of PolicyLink, Carla Tapia of Rideshare Drivers United, and Justin Scoggins of Equity Research Institute. 

    Notes

    (1) Proposition 22 requires rideshare and delivery companies to pay a monthly stipend of 82 percent of the average monthly premium for a Covered California Bronze plan (the lowest tier of plans available through the statewide exchange) for drivers averaging more than 25 hours per week in engaged time. Engaged time is defined as time drivers spend from when they get a ride to when they drop a passenger at their destination and does not include time spent in between rides. For drivers averaging at least 15 but less than 25 engaged hours, companies are required to pay a stipend of 41 percent of the average premium. Drivers who work less than 15 hours of engaged time per week do not qualify for a stipend and the same goes for drivers who receive health insurance through Medicare or Medi-Cal, their partner or spouse, or another job. 

    (2) “Recibí un correo electrónico con la información. En la aplicación también están las horas contabilizadas que necesita para calificar para el cupón. También trabajé en la aplicación durante la pandemia. Estaba saltando por todas partes las plataformas, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash. Con Uber tengo que pasar 20 horas con los pasajeros para calificar, semanalmente. Mintieron a los conductores sobre el seguro médico, porque estoy aquí trabajando y no tengo seguro.”

    (3) “Los conductores se sienten engañados. Estas empresas gastaron mucho dinero en propaganda. Controlaban la plataforma. Como los conductores no tienen control. Estos cambios de las empresas se ven lindos hasta que se revela la verdad. Las horas necesarias para calificar son demasiadas para lo que es justo. Nos mintieron. Uber ha estado haciendo demasiados cambios sin imputación de los conductores“

    (4) “No tengo seguro de salud, no lo he tenido desde que trabajé con Uber. He trabajado tres años aquí en los Estados Unidos, todo el tiempo que he estado con Uber.”

    (5) “Estoy sin seguro y soy diabético. Tengo que preparar mi medicamento. Si no pago tengo que endeudar con los hospitales. Fui al hospital en Glendale, mi factura era de 900 dólares. Fui recientemente y calificé para emergencia médical. He ido a la sala de emergencias dos veces en un año.”

    Rent Debt in America: Stabilizing Renters Is Key to Equitable Recovery

    Our rent debt dashboard, produced in partnership with the Right to the City Alliance, equips policymakers and advocates with data on the extent and nature of rent debt in their communities to inform policies to eliminate debt and prevent the specter of mass eviction.

    By Sarah Treuhaft, Michelle Huang, Alex Ramiller, Justin Scoggins, Abbie Langston, and Jamila Henderson

    Mounting rent debt and the potential for mass eviction is one of the most pressing equity issues created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The vast majority of renters who are in debt are low-wage workers —  disproportionately people of color — who’ve suffered job and income losses due to the pandemic. When the federal eviction moratorium expires at the end of this month, the renter households that still hold debt and lack protection by state or local moratoria will be at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness. Allowing this eviction tsunami to take place would be a moral travesty and a policy failure that would deepen inequities at a moment when the federal government has prioritized addressing systemic racism and ensuring an equitable recovery.

    To inform policymaking and advocacy to prevent eviction and eliminate rent debt, the National Equity Atlas and the Right to the City Alliance launched a rent debt dashboard in April 2021 with near real-time data on the number and characteristics of renters behind on rent for the US, most states (currently 42 states), and 15 metro areas.* The dashboard also provides estimates of the amount of back rent owed for these geographies, as well as estimates for the number of households with debt and the amount owed for all counties in the states. Drawing current data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and the University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research's Understanding Coronavirus in America survey, the dashboard data is refreshed approximately every two weeks. Find our full methodology here.

    Born out of the need for accessible, current data to inform local and state campaigns, the dashboard was produced in partnership with the Right to the City Alliance, a network of community-based organizations working in 45 cities and 26 states to prevent displacement, expand affordable housing, and build just, sustainable cities for all.

    This analysis shares key insights from the dashboard, based on the May 26 - June 7 Pulse survey, along with action steps that local, state, and federal policymakers can take to stabilize the people most negatively impacted by the pandemic and facilitate equitable recovery by addressing the challenge of rent debt.

    This is an update to our May 25 and April 21 analyses.

    Rent debt continues to be a significant issue, with 5.8 million renter households behind on rent.

    As of the first week of June 2021, 5.8 million renters — 14 percent of all renter households — were behind on their rent payments. Renters with arrears will be at imminent risk of eviction in the absence of strong eviction moratoria and other renter protections, and the current federal eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was recently extended one final time and will expire July 31. As a point of comparison, nearly 8 million households lost their homes to foreclosure due to the 2008 financial crisis.

    The Pulse survey has been asking the question “Is this household currently caught up on rent payments?” every two weeks since August 2020. Nationally, the current share of renters with debt is down from a high of 19 percent in mid-January, but remains far higher than the pre-pandemic baseline. While data on rent debt is sparse, the 2017 American Housing Survey found that about seven percent of renters were unable to pay some or all of their rent.

    The share of renters who are behind on rent is much higher than the national average in some states and metro areas. Alabama has the highest share of renters with arrears (28 percent), and at least 20 percent of renters are behind in the states of Arkansas, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, and South Carolina. New Hampshire and Utah have the lowest shares of renters with debt, at 7 percent.

    Among the 15 metros included in the Pulse survey, New York has the highest share of renters with debt (24 percent), followed by Atlanta (21 percent), and Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, and Los Angeles, all at 16 percent. Phoenix has the lowest share of renters in arrears among the 15 metros (8 percent).

    Nationally, we estimate that rent debt amounts to about $20 billion.

    According to our estimates, households that are behind on rent owe $3,400 on average, for a total of $20 billion nationwide. As this average suggests, the majority of households who are behind owe one or two months of back rent. However, a smaller but not insignificant number of renters have not been able to pay rent for many months and owe much larger amounts. Our analysis of the University of Southern California’s Understanding Coronavirus in America national survey finds that approximately 28 percent are one month behind, 22 percent are two months behind, 15 percent are three months behind, and the remaining 35 percent are more than three months behind.

    The average amount owed depends primarily on local housing costs, so it varies significantly across states and metros. Among states, Hawaii has the highest average rent debt per behind-household ($5,600), while Arkansas has the lowest ($2,100). At the metro level, San Francisco and Washington DC have the highest average debts ($5,800 and $5,200, respectively), while Detroit has the lowest average debt by far ($2,500), followed by Phoenix ($3,200).

    Our national estimates of rent debt fall somewhere in the middle of existing projections in terms of total debt, and on the lower end in terms of per household amount. In January, Moody’s Analytics projected that 6.3 million renters would owe a total of $33 billion in rent debt by March, at an average of $5,282 per household. Stout Analytics estimated that between two and five million renter households owed between $13 and $24 billion as of January. Both Moody’s and Stout used the Pulse survey to inform their estimates of the number of households behind. Using a very different methodology based on modeling employment losses, income supports, and spending choices at the household level, and not incorporating the Pulse survey data, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia estimated that 1.8 million renter households would owe $11 billion in rent in March, at approximately $6,100 per household.

    With the incipient recovery, the number of renters with debt has declined nationwide since its peak in January, but has remained at 14 percent since late March. Most states and metros are following this trend.

    Nationwide, the share of renters with debt trended downward from a high of 19 percent in January to 14 percent in late March, and has held steady at 14 percent for the past couple of months. Nearly all states and metros followed this general downward trend since their peaks. Between January and the beginning of June, the rates of renters behind on rent rose in only 10 states, the District of Columbia, and one metro.

    Among states, Georgia and Arkansas saw the biggest spike in arrearages (from 18 to 25 percent behind), followed by Oregon (from nine to 13 percent). Louisiana saw the biggest improvements (from 34 to 18 percent behind).

    Among metros, only Atlanta saw an increase (from 15 to 21 percent behind). Philadelphia saw the greatest decrease (from 27 to 13 percent).

    The vast majority of those who are behind on rent are low-income households who’ve lost jobs and income during the pandemic.

    Today’s rent debt crisis is entirely a consequence of the pandemic’s economic fallout: 68 percent of those who were behind on rent in May had lost employment income at some point during the pandemic, according to the May 12-24 Pulse survey which asked respondents this question. As our other research has shown, low-wage workers, who are disproportionately workers of color, were hardest hit by pandemic job losses and are most likely to suffer from rent debt. Among households with rent debt, 81 percent are low-income (with earnings less than $50,000 per year) and 66 percent are renters of color. The majority (53 percent) are currently unemployed.

    Renters have made tremendous sacrifices and tradeoffs to stay current on rent, including foregoing medical care, delaying payment of other bills, eating cheaper (and potentially less healthy) food, and voluntarily moving in with friends and family — increasing risk of Covid-19 exposure while losing their housing stability. One of the most surprising facts in the data is the high share of low-income renters who are paid in full: Among low-income households that lost employment income during the pandemic, 73 percent were not behind on rent as of May (also according to the May 12-24 Pulse survey).* This underscores how paying rent has remained a top priority for all renters throughout the pandemic, despite the moratoria on evictions.

    Rent is not the only debt accumulating for renters.

    While our analysis focuses on back rent, renters’ pandemic debt crisis extends far beyond their obligations to their landlords. Many renters are borrowing from family and friends or taking on other forms of debt in order to make rent and pay for household expenses. Among households behind on rent, 43 percent borrowed from friends or family to pay rent, compared with just 14 percent of households current on rent. About 30 percent of all renter households, whether behind or current on rent, used a credit card (or some other form of debt) to pay rent. Many are behind on other bills, such as utilities or car payments. A survey of water debt in California found that 1.6 million households owed $1 billion on water bills — $500 on average.

    Renters of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are more likely to owe back rent, making them more vulnerable to eviction risk.

    In the United States, renters are already a more vulnerable population as a whole: they have little housing security, paltry savings, and few legal protections from exorbitant rent increases or eviction (outside of a few states and cities with strong tenant movements). Historic and continuing housing and lending discrimination, as well as systemic inequities in our labor market, have contributed to large racial inequities in homeownership. Atlas data show that seven in 10 White households own their homes while the majority of Black, Latinx, and multiracial households rent.

    The challenge of unaffordable rents and flat wages add to this underlying housing insecurity among renters. Renters were already in crisis when the pandemic began: about a third of White renters and just under half of Black and Latinx renters were both economically insecure (earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level) and rent burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent). Gender is another important axis: women of color are most likely to be rent burdened, and disproportionately face eviction.

    Covid-19 added yet another layer of inequity to these preexisting disparities. Today, 24 percent of Black renters, 17 percent of Asian or Pacific Islander and Latinx renters, and 18 percent of multiracial renters are behind on rent, compared to 9 percent of White renters.

    Eliminating Rent Debt is an Equity Imperative and a Moral, Economic, and Public Health Necessity

    Today’s rent debt crisis is a microcosm of the wretched inequality of the pandemic: millions of renter households – most of them people of color – now face the burden of owing back rent due to a public health crisis that had extremely concentrated negative economic impacts on low-wage workers. These unequal consequences are not random, but the predictable result of past policies that left millions of families with no savings to draw upon in the face of an economic shock, as well as the failed early policy response to the pandemic. Although the CARES Act provided important unemployment benefits and cash assistance as well as an eviction moratorium that helped many pandemic-impacted renters, undocumented and mixed-status families were ineligible for assistance and the moratorium ended in July, leaving renters unprotected until the CDC enacted its moratorium in early September. Moreover, absent meaningful financial assistance to pay back rent, the moratoria simply delay eviction. Yet, the federal government provided no rent relief until December, nine months into the pandemic.

    The magnitude of rent debt is a crisis in and of itself and the leading indicator of a potential eviction tsunami that would be a humanitarian disaster. Rent debt adds a heavy burden onto families who are already financially insecure and struggling during the pandemic, further limiting their choices and creating additional stress. It’s also contributing to the growth of the racial wealth gap: while renters, predominantly people of color, currently hold $20 billion in debt, homeowners, who are predominantly White, saw a $1.9 trillion increase in their home equity from the first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021 as competition for a constrained supply of homes drove prices up. At a time when racial equity is at the forefront of the policy debate, eliminating rent debt that has unfairly and unequally accrued for people of color should be an urgent priority.

    Clearing rent debt is also key to staving off the specter of mass eviction, which would directly harm economically vulnerable families and their communities and have long-term ripple effects throughout our economy. Eviction has significant negative consequences for mental and physical health, educational outcomes, and household finances. Some evicted families and individuals would become homeless, with devastating consequences for long-term health and well-being as well as significant costs for local governments.

    The health impacts of eviction and homelessness are even more severe during a pandemic. Research during the pandemic found that states that allowed evictions to proceed had more Covid infections and deaths than those with eviction moratoria. Although the vaccination campaign is in full swing and Covid cases are low in most states, there are hotspots with high infection rates and the longer-term picture remains uncertain.

    Forgiving rent debt is also essential to an equitable and people-centered recovery: one in which those hardest-hit by the pandemic can fully participate and thrive.

    For an Equitable and Just Recovery, Policymakers Must Clear Rent Debt and Prevent Eviction

    Recognizing the catastrophic impact of mass eviction, policymakers have responded, albeit belatedly, by enacting eviction moratoria and establishing rent relief funds. The federal CDC eviction moratorium scheduled to expire last month was extended through July 31, and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) passed in January provided $21.5 billion for rental assistance programs as well as $350 billion in fiscal support for state and local governments, some of which could be allocated toward debt relief. The December 27 coronavirus relief bill also provided $25 billion in funding for rental assistance.

    With the federal moratorium expiring in just a few weeks and many state and local emergency rent relief programs supported by the ARP just getting off the ground, there is an urgent need to clear the debts of all tenants in need to prevent mass eviction. Throughout the pandemic, rent relief programs have not been reaching all of those in need. These programs must be structured to meet the scale of the crisis, both to efficiently deliver resources and to ensure that resources are distributed equitably, reaching the low-income renters of color who were both hardest hit by the pandemic and already housing insecure before Covid-19. Renters also need stronger eviction protections, including access to free legal assistance and eviction diversion programs. States and localities should extend their eviction moratoria until the pandemic rent debt crisis has subsided.

    As they design rent relief programs, local and state policymakers should implement policies that adhere to the following equitable, common sense principles:

    • No renter, regardless of immigration status, should be evicted or burdened with years of debt for rent that they were unable to pay during the pandemic.
    • Rent debt due to the pandemic should be fully forgiven and should not be conditioned on landlords’ acceptance of funds or participation in programs.
    • Financial assistance to landlords should address the fiscal needs of landlords in danger of going out of business due to lost rent, with a particular focus on keeping small community-based landlords and nonprofit affordable housing operators solvent, rather than attempting to achieve full rent replacement for all landlords. California’s program, negotiated with the state’s landlord association, provides an example: landlords receive 80 percent of back rent owed.
    • Local municipalities’ authority to pass stronger eviction and debt protection laws should be preserved.
    • Landlords should continue to fulfill their legal obligations to tenants regardless of whether they receive assistance, including the duty to maintain habitable premises, refrain from harassment and retaliation against tenants, and respecting tenants’ legal rights.

      For more local policy ideas and examples, see https://ourhomesourhealth.org

      * The number of renter respondents to the Pulse survey for Delaware, Maine, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming was insufficient to produce reliable data to include in the dashboard.

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