Rent Debt Continues to Burden Renters Across the Nation

Dear Atlas users,

Millions of households across the United States are still struggling with massive amounts of back rent, putting them and their families at risk for eviction. Use the Rent Debt Dashboard to delve deeper into the latest data on rent debt in the US. Here are more updates from the Atlas:

Landmark Settlement Reached on Behalf of Californians Struggling with Pandemic Rent Debt

The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE Action), Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), and PolicyLink — represented by Western Center on Law & Poverty, Public Counsel, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and Covington & Burling LLP — have settled a major lawsuit against the California Department of Housing & Community Development (HCD) over the administration of the statewide Covid-19 rent relief program. In June 2022, the advocacy groups sued HCD for several systemic failures in the program, including a confusing application process that led eligible tenants to be wrongfully denied assistance. According to Atlas analyses, more than 460,000 California renter households applied to the program and more than 100,000 households are still waiting for a decision on their applications. The agreement requires HCD to give pending and denied applicants a fair chance to receive Covid-19 rental assistance. To learn more about the settlement and what it means for tenants, visit carentrelief.org.

Data Update: Rent Debt Dashboard

Rent debt remains at crisis levels across the nation. To continue supporting advocacy efforts and policy action, we’ve updated the Rent Debt Dashboard. The latest data shows that nearly six million renter households remain behind on their rent as of May 8 — about double the pre-pandemic baseline. Altogether, they owe more than $10 billion in total rent debt, with the majority of those behind on rent being low-income people of color.

ICYMI: The Uneven Geography of Affordability for Asian American and Pacific Islander Renters

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are among the fastest-growing communities across the US: between 2010 and 2019, the AAPI population grew by 18 percent, whereas the overall US population grew by only 5 percent. However, the AAPI experience in the US is not monolithic. The second report in our series exploring the changing geography of opportunity in US metros indicates that different AAPI subgroups and ethnicities have widely divergent experiences with rental affordability, with Pacific Islanders experiencing the steepest challenges. Want to delve deeper? You can use this dashboard to explore the differences between and within AAPI communities across the nation.

Atlas in the News

Over the past few months, Atlas data and analyses have been cited by dozens of news outlets, including AxiosMarketWatchLos Angeles TimesTMJ4 News, and The Wall Street JournalTo explore more of our media coverage, visit our news archive.

Atlas on the Road

The Atlas team and our partners facilitate learning sessions and provide presentations on a regular basis to share new data, indicators, best practices, and functionalities. Here’s a brief look at some of our recent presentations: On June 15, Michelle Huang and Simone Robbenolt facilitated a session at Governing for All: California, a convening hosted by the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) in partnership with PolicyLink and State of Equity. During it, participants learned how to use the Atlas as a tool for finding disaggregated data and local strategies to support their work. Simone and Michelle facilitated a virtual session with the 2023 Transformative Justice Infrastructure Fellows on June 8, where they did a walkthrough of how the Atlas could support the implementation of transformative infrastructure-related projects, programs, and processes. On June 9, Selena Tan and Seleeke Flingai joined experts from Recidiviz and the Black Wealth Data Center at a Data Funders Collaborative monthly town hall for a panel discussion about creating a demand for public data with a lens on equity. On June 1, Seleeke and Edward-Michael Muña demonstrated how Atlas data can be put into action through a brief showing of the regional equity profiles being built to support community groups that are looking to leverage funds from the statewide Community Economic Resilience Fund (CERF) program. The session was part of the Community Economic Mobilization Initiative (CEMI) learning series. To learn more, download the slide deck from the session or watch the session recording. On May 25, Selena showcased the Atlas and our approach to data equity at the Leadership Conference Education Fund ’s Data Disaggregation Action Network meeting. On April 28, Michelle and Selena presented at the 2023 KIDS COUNT Data Institute, which was hosted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. During the session, they delved into the Atlas’ approach to data equity and data democratization in developing analyses and working with community-based organizations on equity policy. Interested in hosting a presentation or training? Contact us at info@nationalequityatlas.org.

— The National Equity Atlas Team at PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute (ERI)

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May 2023

Bias and Discrimination in Digital Advertising


Author: Danaë Metaxa (University of Pennsylvania) 

This white paper examines the digital advertising ecosystem, with a particular focus on social inequality. It begins in Section 1 by introducing the concept of a sociotechnical system and the challenges of studying such systems empirically: these systems are dynamic, their data are ephemeral, they are embedded deeply in people’s everyday lives, and they are highly personalized. Next, Section 2 introduces the reader to digital advertising, beginning with a brief history of advertising before the digital era and continuing to explain the technical infrastructure that underlies this ecosystem. Section 3 then delves into bias and discrimination in digital ads on both a theoretical level (legal context and types of bias) and a summarization of work that has empirically studied discrimination in digital ads. Finally, Section 4 concludes by discussing why these issues persist and how we might change them—from better research to law and policy.

May 2023

Algorithmic Discrimination: A Framework and Approach to Auditing & Measuring the Impact of Race-Targeted Digital Advertising


Author: Charlton McIlwain (New York University) 

The algorithmic systems and platforms that facilitate race-based targeted advertising and mark are the focal point of increased scrutiny by civil rights activists, advocacy organizations, policymakers, technologists, and others. Consensus is growing that these automated, algorithmic systems discriminate against and produce tangible harms that disproportionately impact communities and people of color. However, we collectively know less about the demonstrable ways that racial discrimination takes place in our contemporary digital advertising ecosystem. Further, we have fewer ways to think about how to conceptualize and document the potential impacts and harms of race-based advertising in both legacy media forms and especially in today’s digital media landscape, which is driven by search engines, digital advertising and marketing platforms, and a complex infrastructure of advertising and data technologies that create the systems and structures defining the business of advertising and marketing today.

This report and the research that produced it aims to accomplish the following:

1. Illuminate how marketers and advertisers target individuals and communities based on race in today’s digital advertising systems.

2. Identify policy challenges and interventions to help mitigate the impact of algorithmic discrimination in advertising and marketing practice.

3. Provide an alternative way of conceptualizing, measuring, and documenting the potential impacts and/or harms produced by race-based target marketing and advertising structured by digital marketing and advertising platforms.

4. Help the research and policy community think about what types of data can be marshaled to better understand the ways that racial targeting works in today’s digital advertising landscape and to help formulate methods for utilizing data to shape our understanding about how this industry practice produces discriminatory impacts and harms.

5. Provide grounding for all of the above in the systemic, structural, and historical context at the intersection of critical race theory, technological development, and advertising practice.

Examining Affordability for Asian American and Pacific Islander Renters in Metro America

Dear Atlas users,

Atlas data shows that at least half of renters are currently rent burdened in 57 of the 100 largest cities in the United States. Research has shown that rent-burdened households are more likely to experience financial instability and be at risk of eviction. Through our research, we continue to explore how housing unaffordability impacts families across the nation. Here are the latest updates from the Atlas:

New Atlas Research Illustrates The Uneven Geography of Affordability for Asian American and Pacific Islander Renters

The second report in our series exploring the changing geography of opportunity in American metropolitan regions indicates that Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) renters experienced an uneven distribution of housing affordability across ethnic groups and geographic regions during the period between the Great Recession and the Covid-19 pandemic. Our analysis of changes in market rent and median household income for AAPI residents in the 100 largest US metros shows that AAPI residents have been disproportionately concentrated in the least affordable regions. It also underscores that AAPI communities’ relatively high median incomes can obscure the presence of many low-income AAPI renters who struggle with finding safe and secure housing. To further illustrate these findings, we explore the various housing challenges that AAPI residents face in the Honolulu, Atlanta, Philadelphia/New York, and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. Visit the project page to assess other resources, including a dashboard you can use to explore the differences between and within AAPI communities across the US.

An Equity Profile of Kalamazoo County

Kalamazoo County, Michigan, is growing more diverse. But our latest equity profile — developed in partnership with the Kalamazoo Community Foundation and local community leaders — details how a long history of racial discrimination and disinvestment in the region’s communities of color have created entrenched and persistent racial inequities in employment, income, wealth, education, health, justice, housing, and transportation. These growing gaps are costing the county an estimated $1 billion in potential economic growth each year. Learn more.

Data Update: Rent Debt Dashboard

Our updated Rent Debt Dashboard shows that more than 5 million renters remain in debt, with an estimated total rent debt of more than $11 billion nationwide, as of April 10. The majority of those behind on rent are low-income people of color. This new data underscores the magnitude of the rent debt crisis in communities across the country and the continued urgency of providing tenant protections to keep families in their homes and curb the surge of evictions that have followed the end of pandemic eviction moratoriums.

Meet the 2024 Class of National Equity Atlas Fellows

In case you missed it, we announced our second cohort of equity champions — 10 grassroots leaders of color from across the nation who will spend the next year sharpening their data skills and producing new data visualizations and other research products to strengthen their organization’s policy and advocacy campaigns. In the face of mounting challenges, the Atlas remains committed to bolstering the impact of dedicated advocates who reflect the communities they serve, which is a critical ingredient to winning on equity. Learn more about our fellowship program.

Atlas in the News

Over the past few months, Atlas data and analyses have been cited in dozens of news articles: Findings from our September 2022 report on Prop 22’s impact on rideshare drivers was cited in a piece from The San Francisco Standard about rideshare and food delivery drivers grappling with tipping issues. The report was also cited in a piece from The Guardian about drivers calling for the regulation of rideshare companies. Our rent debt data was cited in a CalMatters article on rising evictions in Los Angeles County and a CNBC article detailing solutions for those grappling with rent debt. To explore more of our media coverage, visit our news archive.

We Want to Hear from You!

If you’ve found any of our data, research, or resources valuable, please let us know. Share your questions, thoughts, and stories with us at info@nationalequityatlas.org.

— The National Equity Atlas Team at PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute (ERI)

March 2023

Housing Justice on the Ballot: Initiative Guide


Building on PolicyLink’s Housing Justice on the Ballot webinar series, this guide is for tenant organizers, housing advocates, legal advocates, and anyone interested in bringing housing justice to life by advancing renter protections on the ballot. Whether groups are in the beginning stages of exploring a ballot initiative campaign for their jurisdiction and want to prepare themselves for the journey, or they are inviting partner organizations to join an existing campaign and want them to know what to expect for the path ahead — this guide is meant to support campaigns from policy idea to implementation. Most importantly, this guide is filled with advice and tips from campaign leaders across the country who have successfully led ballot initiative campaigns for housing justice or are currently running one. Their stories are captured in case studies spread throughout the guide, and their wisdom — the foundation on which this guide is based — is an invaluable resource for housing justice campaigns to come.