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Census Household Pulse Survey: Key Phase 2 Findings

Image of a stethoscope and wooden decoration shaped liked a house placed on top of charts.The Household Pulse Survey provides insight into how household experiences have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced the release of Phase 2 of the Household Pulse Survey. The Household Pulse Survey is designed to quickly capture information about household experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Included in the survey are several questions about housing circumstances that researchers can use to assess the current state of U.S. housing. This article highlights several key findings from the first two releases (Week 13 and Week 14) of the Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey.

For more information about the Household Pulse Survey, including key differences between Phase 1 and Phase 2, see “The Census Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey and Rental Housing During the Pandemic,” by Todd Richardson.

What is the current state of housing circumstances for U.S. renter households?
The 2019 American Housing Survey estimates that the United States has 44.7 million renter households. Table 1 highlights key information from the Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey about housing circumstances for U.S. renter households between August 19, 2020, and September 14, 2020. Findings suggest that housing circumstances were similar across Week 13 and Week 14 of the Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey.

Table 1: U.S. Renter Household Circumstances, Household Pulse Survey (Phase 2, Week 13 and Week 14)
Reported Renter Circumstance Week 13* Week 14**
Weighted % 95% CI Predicted Population N*** Weighted % 95% CI Predicted Population N***
Behind on rent payments 14.5 9.8, 19.2 6.48 million 16.2 12.3, 20.1 7.24 million
Not confident in ability to pay rent on time 10.8 7.2, 14.3 4.83 million 10.7 7.3, 14.1 4.78 million
Behind on rent payments and reported eviction was “very likely” in the next 2 months 17.7 6.6, 28.8 1.15 million 14.9 3.43, 26.4 1.08 million
Behind on rent payments and reported eviction was “somewhat likely” in the next 2 months 29.5 16.9, 42.1 1.91 million 30.5 17.3, 43.5 2.21 million
*Week 13 covers the period from August 19, 2020, to August 31, 2020. This period represents a timeframe during which many foreclosure moratoria had expired, and the new eviction moratorium had not yet been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
**Week 14 covers the period from September 2, 2020, to September 14, 2020.
***Based on a 2019 American Housing Survey estimate that the United States has approximately 44.7 million renter households.

According to the most recent Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey (Week 14), renter households experienced the following circumstances:

  • Approximately 7.24 million U.S. renter households, or 16.2 percent of renter households, reported not being up to date with their rent payments.
  • Approximately 4.78 million U.S. renter households, or 10.7 percent of U.S. renter households, are not confident that they will be able to pay their next rent payment on time.
  • Among U.S. renter households that reported being behind on rent payments, 14.9 percent reported that eviction was “very likely” in the next 2 months and 30.5 percent reported that eviction was “somewhat likely.” These estimates translate to approximately 3.29 million renter households at risk of eviction in the next 2 months (or 45.4 percent of renters behind on rent payments).

What is the current state of housing circumstances for low-income U.S. renter households?
According to the 2019 American Housing Survey, an estimated 27.4 million renter households have an annual household income below $50,000. Consistent with the prepandemic housing crisis, renter households with low prepandemic incomes were much more likely to be behind on their rent payments (table 2). When compared with high-income renter households (those with a prepandemic household income of $50,000 or above), U.S. renter households with a prepandemic household income of less than $25,000 were more than twice as likely as high-income renter households to report not being up to date with rental payments.

Table 2: U.S. Renter Households Not Up to Date With Rent Payments, by Prepandemic Household Income, Household Pulse Survey (Phase 2, Week 13 and Week 14)
Prepandemic Household Income Week 13* Week 14**
Weighted % 95% CI Odds Ratio 95% CI Weighted % 95% CI Odds Ratio 95% CI
Less than $25,000 19.5 8.66, 30.4 2.44 1.06, 5.62 20.8 11.8, 29.8 2.31 1.05, 5.09
$25,000 – $34,999 17.8 8.07, 27.6 2.19 0.87, 5.46 21.0 8.98, 33.1 2.35 0.90, 6.12
$35,000 – $49,999 13.9 4.37, 23.4 1.63 0.56, 4.75 16.7 6.46, 26.9 1.76 0.68, 4.58
$50,000+ (Reference) 9.03 3.34, 14.7 1.00 10.2 4.74, 15.7 1.00
*Week 13 covers the period from August 19, 2020, to August 31, 2020. This period represents a timeframe in which many foreclosure moratoria had expired, and the new eviction moratorium had not yet been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
**Week 14 covers the period from September 2, 2020, to September 14, 2020.

As expected, U.S. renter households with lower prepandemic incomes were also more likely than households with higher incomes to report that eviction was “very likely” or “somewhat likely” in the next 2 months (table 3). When compared with renter households with prepandemic incomes exceeding $50,000 annually, U.S. renter households with lower prepandemic household incomes were more likely to report that eviction was “very likely” or “somewhat likely” in the next 2 months. Note, however, that because of the very wide confidence intervals, the statistical significance of this relationship remains unclear.

Table 3: U.S. Renter Households Not Up to Date With Rent Payments That Believe Eviction Is “Very Likely” or ”Somewhat Likely” in the Next Two Months by Prepandemic Household Income, Household Pulse Survey (Phase 2, Week 13 and Week 14)
Prepandemic Household Income Week 13* Week 14**
Weighted % 95% CI Weighted % 95% CI
Less than $25,000 53.5 25.6, 81.4 53.2 29.9, 76.5
$25,000 - $34,999 48.5 15.4, 81.5 44.9 13.0, 76.9
$35,000 - $49,999 46.8 4.84, 88.7 44.7 9.50, 80.0
$50,000+ 37.9 10.2, 65.5 37.6 10.2, 65.0
*Week 13 covers the period from August 19, 2020, to August 31, 2020. This period represents a timeframe during which many foreclosure moratoria had expired and the new eviction moratorium had not yet been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
**Week 14 covers the period from September 2, 2020, to September 14, 2020.

Which U.S. region had the most U.S. renter households with missed rental payments?
When examining the percentage of renter households with missed rental payments by region, no significant relationship exists between region and missed payments (table 4). This relationship is also insignificant when examining the relationship between the percentage of U.S. renter households with missed rental payments who believe eviction is “very likely” or “somewhat likely” in the next 2 months by region. These findings suggest that the rental crisis is affecting all U.S. regions equally.

Table 4: U.S. Renter Households Not Up to Date With Rent Payments by Region, Household Pulse Survey (Phase 2, Week 13 and Week 14)
Region Week 13* Week 14**
Weighted % 95% CI Weighted % 95% CI
Northeast 15.2 5.01, 25.3 17.1 7.90, 26.2
Midwest 15.8 8.13, 23.5 18.2 10.4, 26.0
South 14.7 7.26, 22.2 15.7 7.15, 24.3
West 12.3 4.40, 20.1 13.4 6.28, 20.4
*Week 13 covers the period from August 19, 2020, to August 31, 2020. This period represents a timeframe in which many foreclosure moratoria had expired, and the new eviction moratorium had not yet been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
**Week 14 covers the period from September 2, 2020, to September 14, 2020.
NOTE: Using chi-square testing, the relationship between being behind on rental payments and census region was insignificant among U.S renters for Week 13 data (p=0.91) and Week 14 data (p=0.83).

Among U.S. low-income renter households, what characteristics are associated with not being up to date with rent payments?
Among low-income renter households with prepandemic annual household incomes below $50,000, the respondent characteristics of race, ethnicity, age, gender, education level, and marital status were not statistically associated with increased risk of reporting being behind on rent payments. This finding, however, should be viewed cautiously; wide confidence intervals suggest detailed subset estimates are unstable.

Despite large standard error estimates, some renter characteristics emerged as statistically associated with being behind on rental payments. For example, Week 14 Pulse Phase 2 data show that households with children are statistically more likely to report not being up to date with rent payments than are households without children (p=0.0047 based on chi-square test). Although 29.1 percent (95% CI: 19.2, 39.1) of rental households with children reported being behind on rental payments, only 13.4 percent (95% CI: 7.46, 19.4) of households without children reported this outcome. This household type needs to be closely tracked as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

As expected, households reporting economic struggles were statistically more likely than other households to report not being up to date with their rental payments (table 5). Even with very large standard errors, the relationships were significant. These findings further underscore the magnitude of the relationship between economic experiences and housing insecurity.

Table 5: Weighted Percentage of Low-Income* U.S. Renter Households Not Up to Date With Rent Payments, by Reported Economic and Social Experiences, Household Pulse Survey (Phase 2, Week 14**)
Reported Experience % (SE) p-value***
Have you, or has anyone in your household, experienced a loss of employment income since March 13, 2020?
Yes 27.2 (4.37)
0.0054
No 10.7 (3.77)
Do you expect that you or anyone in your household will experience a loss of employment income in the next 4 weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic?
Yes 32.6 (5.82)
0.0039
No 13.4 (3.13)
In the last 7 days, how difficult has it been for your household to pay for usual household expenses, including but not limited to food, rent or mortgage, car payments, medical expenses, student loans, and so on?
Very Difficult or Somewhat Difficult 30.6 (4.34)
<.0001
Not at All Difficult or a Little Difficult 6.48 (2.78)
In the last 7 days, which of these statements best describes the food eaten in your household?
Enough to Eat 38.9 (8.06)
0.0054
Sometimes or Often Not Enough to Eat 13.4 (2.90)
How confident are you that your household will be able to afford the kinds of food you need for the next four weeks?
Not at All Confident 39.1 (9.23)
0.0320
Somewhat, Moderately, or Very Confident 15.8 (3.09)
Note: SE=standard error.
*”Low-income” defined as households with a prepandemic annual income of less than $50,000.
**Week 14 covers the period from September 2, 2020, to September 14, 2020.
***P-value based on chi-square testing.

Among U.S. renter households, how does the prevalence of missed rental payments correlate with housing structure type?
Rates of missed rental payments among U.S. renter households vary by housing structure type. Among U.S. renters living in mobile homes, approximately one-quarter reported not being up to date with their rental payments. This estimate is similar among all renters regardless of prepandemic income (table 6).

Approximately 21.4 percent of low-income renters living in apartment buildings with only two to four units reported not being up to date with rental payments. By comparison, 17.0 percent of low-income renter households living in apartment buildings with 50 or more units reported not being up to date with their rental payments. This finding is expected because elderly and disabled households, who have a lower risk of job loss, make up a significant share of multifamily renters. Although structure type appears to be correlated with missed rental payments, this relationship is not statistically significant because of wide confidence intervals.

Phase 2 findings also suggest that households living in smaller multifamily buildings managed by individuals may fare worse than those in large, professionally managed properties; however, due to high standard error estimates, this finding is not conclusive. Moving forward, HUD must carefully track this finding as Pulse 2 biweekly results continue to be released. Although these findings are not statistically conclusive, preventing evictions is crucial. Therefore, HUD grantees that operate eviction prevention programs must focus on smaller multifamily buildings.

Table 6: Weighted Percentage of Households Not Up to Date With Rent Payments Among Renters and Low-Income Renters by Structure Type, Household Pulse Survey (Phase 2, Week 14*)
Structure Type All Renters
p=0.85**
Low-Income Renters***
p=0.93**
% SE % SE
Mobile home 22.8 12.4 22.9 13.0
One-family house detached from any other house 17.7 4.23 23.0 7.38
One-family house attached to one or more houses 19.3 8.89 23.0 13.1
Building with 2 to 4 apartments 17.5 4.23 21.4 6.29
Building with 5 to 49 apartments 12.2 3.99 14.6 5.70
Building with 50 or more apartments 13.9 5.73 17.0 8.22
Boat, recreational vehicle, van, etc. 50.5 47.2 58.8 55.0
Total 16.1 1.96 19.7 2.75
*Week 14 covers the period from September 2, 2020, to September 14, 2020.
**P-value based on chi-square testing.
***“Low-income” defined as households with a prepandemic annual income of less than $50,000.

What is the current state of housing circumstances for U.S. homeowner households?
According to the 2019 American Housing Survey, the United States has an estimated 79.5 million homeowner households. According to the most recent Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey (Week 14), homeowner households with a mortgage experienced the following circumstances:

  • Approximately 9.32 percent (95% CI: 7.14, 11.5) of U.S. homeowner households with a mortgage, or approximately 7.40 million owner households, reported not being up to date with mortgage payments.
  • Approximately 3.93 percent (95% CI: 2.09, 5.77) of homeowner households with a mortgage, or approximately 3.12 million homeowner households, are not at all confident that they will be able to pay their next mortgage payment on time.
  • Among U.S. homeowner households with a mortgage that reported being behind on mortgage payments, 4.58 percent (95% CI: 0.0, 10.6) reported that foreclosure was “very likely” in the next 2 months and 15.2 percent (95% CI: 5.72, 24.8) reported that foreclosure was “somewhat likely.” This translates to approximately 1.47 million homeowner households at risk of foreclosure in the next 2 months (or 19.8% of those behind on mortgage payments).

Routine vacations or a solution to housing insecurity? Addressing the rise in U.S. households living in boats, recreational vehicles, or vans.
According to the 2019 American Housing Survey, approximately 96,000 households reported living in boats, recreational vehicles (RVs), or vans. Conversely, Phase 2 data (Week 13 and Week 14) state that approximately 490,000 households reported living in boats, RVs, or vans. Although this rate initially appears to be five times the rate reported in the 2019 American Housing Survey, the corresponding large confidence interval suggests an unstable estimate. Because of the limited sample size of households living in boats, RVs, or vans in the Pulse data, confidence intervals are wide; therefore, determining the characteristics of this population is currently difficult. Nevertheless, this finding should be carefully tracked over time to assess whether households are using unconventional approaches to address housing insecurity.

How Does the Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey Compare to the National Multifamily Housing Council Rent Payment Tracker?
According to data from the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) Rent Payment Tracker, 86.9 percent of multifamily households made a full or partial rent payment by August 13, 2020. By comparison, the Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey (late August) reported an overall rate of missed rental payments of 14.5 percent among all renters. This finding suggests that the new Phase 2 questions accurately capture the current state of missed rental payments among renter households. Although NMHC’s Rent Payment Tracker is incredibly valuable, its data are limited to multifamily properties. The Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey allows HUD to examine results for single-family households, an important subgroup for addressing the current housing rental crisis. For more information about Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey data on single-family and multifamily properties, see “The Census Phase 2 Household Pulse Survey and Rental Housing During the Pandemic.”

What Does HUD Need To Keep a “Pulse” On?
HUD will use future Household Pulse Survey findings closely monitor the housing rental crisis. Findings from late August and early September suggest that the current rental crisis represents a continuation of the prepandemic rental crisis, potentially exaggerating adverse outcomes for those previously struggling. Results also suggest that the rate of those reporting missed rent payments has nearly doubled, and special attention to this issue is needed to avoid potential evictions. As new data continue to be released, special populations that report high rates of missed rental payments, such as households with children, will continue to be monitored.