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The Census Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey and Rental Housing During the Pandemic

Image of Todd M. Richardson, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research.Todd M. Richardson, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research.

On September 9, 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau (Census) announced the release of the first dataset from Phase 2 of the Household Pulse Survey. First released as Phase 1 on April 23, 2020, this experimental, longitudinal survey is designed to quickly capture information about household social and economic experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with several other topics related to abrupt and significant changes to American life, the Household Pulse Survey collects important information about housing circumstances and the associated impacts of the ongoing crisis. Data collection for Phase 2 will occur from August 19, 2020, through November 2020. Public use files will be released biweekly starting September 23, 2020.

How is Phase 2 different from Phase 1?

There are several important differences between Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Household Pulse Survey. First, HUD encouraged Census to update the survey questions about missed rent payments. The Phase 1 question asked, “Did you pay your last month’s rent or mortgage on time?” Because many renters do not pay “on time” but do pay their rent eventually, HUD felt that this question did not accurately capture the number of individuals potentially at risk of losing their housing because of missed payments.

The Phase 2 question instead asks renters, “Is this household currently caught up on rent payments?” If the answer is no, the survey goes on to ask, How likely is it that your household will have to leave this home or apartment within the next two months because of eviction?” Data users should be aware that this question change does lead to a “break in series” between Phase 1 and Phase 2; that is, the results are not comparable. However, the question about confidence and rental payments (How confident are you that your household will be able to pay your next rent or mortgage payment on time?) remains unchanged between phases.

Analysts using the microdata should note that, although Phase 1 of the Household Pulse Survey released weekly public use files, Phase 2 will release data files biweekly. In addition, the Phase 2 data now contain household-level weights. This inclusion is particularly helpful for HUD because housing resources typically are allocated to households rather than individuals. Analysts should, however, pay attention to control totals even when using household-level weights. The housing-specific questions are near the end of the survey, and many respondents “drop of” before reaching the housing questions. Thus, if reporting renters with the household weights, the control totals for renter and owner households will not add up to the national count of renters and owners. Because of this drop off, many households also do not have tenure reported.

Finally, the Household Pulse Survey has a low response rate, which introduces an unknown amount of nonresponse bias. The survey’s limited sample size also results in standard error estimates that are high, especially when subsetting by important sociodemographic characteristics. As more data files become available, building statistical power may be possible.

What is the current state (for the period from September 2, 2020, to September 14, 2020) of housing circumstances for U.S. renter households?

  • There are an estimated 44.7 million renter households in the United States.
  • Approximately 16.2 percent of renter households, or approximately 7.24 million renter households, reported not being up to date with rent payments. We expect this to go down slightly for the second half of September, as other data shows that some renters are slow pay, but do make their payment within the month.
  • Approximately 10.7 percent of renter households, or approximately 4.78 million renter households are not at all confident that they will be able to pay their next rent payment on time.
  • Among the 7.24 million renter households that reported being behind on rent payments, 14.9 percent (1.08 million) reported that eviction was “very likely” in the next 2 months and 30.5 percent (2.21 million) reported that eviction was “somewhat likely.” This translates to approximately 3.29 million renter households, or 45.4% of renters behind on payments, responding that they consider themselves at some risk of eviction in the next 2 months.

How do these estimates compare with renter housing circumstances before the pandemic?

In 2017, HUD included a module in the American Housing Survey that asked questions similar to those asked in the updated Household Pulse Survey. The 2017 American Housing Survey showed that approximately 2.8 million renters were at least 1 month behind on their rent. It also showed that approximately 308,000 renters thought it was “very likely” they would be evicted in the next 2 months; approximately 2.98 million thought eviction was “somewhat likely.”

Both surveys have wide confidence intervals associated with weighted estimates, but a simple comparison is that missed rent payments and fear of eviction were a problem before the pandemic began. The pandemic has worsened the problem.

Is this problem more concentrated among single-family or multifamily rental units?

America’s rental inventory is split evenly between single-family properties (those with one to four units) and multifamily properties (those with five or more units); approximately 55 percent of renters live in single-family properties. Who owns that housing, however, is very different. The 2018 Rental Housing Finance Survey shows that 72 percent of the rental units in one- to four-unit properties are owned by individual “mom and pop” investors, whereas only 12 percent of multifamily properties are owned by individual investors. Most multifamily properties are owned by limited liability partnerships, limited liability companies, limited partnerships, or some form of private or nonprofit corporate ownership. The housing is also managed differently, with most single-family individual investors managing the properties themselves and multifamily property owners using professional management companies.

Which of these investor types does the current crisis affect the most? Table 1 examines the 7.24 million renter households that reported being behind on their rent in the early September Household Pulse Survey (Week 14). To read this table, look at the upper left-hand corner to see that 21.9 percent of renters behind on their rent lived in single-family properties with one to four units and had a prepandemic annual income of less than $25,000. At the bottom of the table, the bolded totals show that nearly two-thirds (60.5%) of renters behind on their rent live in single-family properties, meaning that individual investors who own mostly single-family properties are more likely to be impacted by missed payments than are corporate investors associated with multifamily properties. Note also that nearly one-quarter (24.4%) of renters reporting late rent payments reported prepandemic annual incomes greater than $50,000.

Table 1: Share of U.S. Renters Behind in Rent by Single-Family or Multifamily Status, Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey (Week 14: September 2, 2020, to September 14, 2020)
Prepandemic IncomeSingle-Family Renters (1- to 4-Unit Properties)Multifamily Renters (5+ Unit Properties) All Renters
Weighted % (SE)Weighted % (SE)Weighted % (SE)
Less than $25,00021.9 (6.0)10.8 (4.8)35.7 (6.3)
$25,000 – $34,99914.2 (6.0)7.2 (3.9)23.1 (6.9)
$35,000 – $49,9999.6 (4.1)6.1 (3.1)16.9 (5.7)
$50,000 – $74,9999.2 (4.0)6.1 (3.1)14.1 (4.7)
$75,000 – $99,9992.3 (1.6)2.2 (1.8)4.8 (2.6)
$100,000 – $149,9992.4 (2.6)1.3 (1.4)3.8 (2.9)
$150,000 – $199,9990.5 (0.9)0.4 (0.8)0.9 (1.2)
$200,000 and Above0.3 (0.7)0.4 (0.9)0.8 (1.1)
TOTAL60.5 (6.2)32.9 (6.4)100
Note: SE=standard error

Additional Resources

For more analysis of the most recent Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey data, see this additional article by Veronica Helms. To access Household Pulse Survey data and for technical information, please visit www.census.gov/householdpulsedata. Results of the Household Pulse Survey are also available through the Household Pulse Survey Interactive Tool, detailed tables and public use data files.

Source:

The Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey asks similar questions about mortgage payments and foreclosures for owners with a mortgage.

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For information about the total number of owners and renters in the United States, see the 2019 American Housing Survey Table Creator.

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Estimate based on findings from the 2019 American Housing Survey. Note that when reporting predicted population estimates, HUD used Household Pulse Survey weighted percentage estimates alongside occupied rental unit controls in the 2019 American Housing Survey to predict the number of national total renters with each respective Household Pulse Survey outcome.

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95% CI: 12.3, 20.1.

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95% CI: 7.3, 14.1.

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95% CI: 3.4, 26.4.

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95% CI: 17.4, 43.5.

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Note that the 2017 American Housing Survey questions were not limited to those who reported being behind on their rent (as it is in the Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey).

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