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Census Household Pulse Survey: Key Phase 3 Housing Payment Findings

Photo of multiple buildings with facades of brick and siding.The Household Pulse Survey provides insight into how household experiences have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Census Household Pulse Survey provides insight on how individuals are experiencing business closures, stay-at-home orders, school closures, changes in spending patterns, and other abrupt and significant changes to American life during the 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 how trends specific to housing have changed between December 2020 and March 2021. The number of renter households behind on rent peaked in December and January and by late March 2021, rental instability numbers were at or below the spring 2020 numbers, when the pandemic (and the survey) started. For both December and March, we analyzed survey results from later in the month to get a more complete picture and better comparison of households’ ability to pay rent. The National Multifamily Housing Council’s Rent Payment Tracker suggests that between 10 and 15 percent of multifamily rent payments are made after the 6th and before the end of each month.

How has housing insecurity changed for renters?

Since the end of 2020, the percent of households reporting being behind on rent has dropped considerably. In late December, 18.4 percent of renter households reported being behind on rent, compared with 14.3 percent of renter households in late March. When applying these percentages to the total renter population, this translates to a decrease in nearly 2 million households reporting being behind on rent. Similarly, fewer households report zero confidence in their ability to make next month’s rent (14.5 percent in late December compared with 9.9 percent in March). A greater ability to pay back rent and future rent has also led to a decrease in households reporting that evictions were likely in the next 2 months (4.3 million households in late December versus 2.8 million households in late March).


Reported Renter Circumstance

Week 21 (December 9 – December 21)

Week 27 (March 17 - March 29)

Weighted %

90% CI

Predicted Population N*

Weighted %

90% CI

Predicted Population N*

Renter households behind on payment

18.4

13.28, 23.52

8.24 million

14.3

9.94, 18.69

6.4 million

Renter households not at all confident in ability to pay rent on time

14.5

9.8, 19.2

6.48 million

9.9

5.4, 14.49

4.45 million

Renter households who reported eviction was “very likely” in the next 2 months

3.3

1.29, 5.31

1.46 million

2.1

0.4, 3.8

0.96 million

Renter households who reported eviction was “somewhat likely” in the next 2 months

6.3

3.66, 8.94

2.83 million

4.1

1.97, 6.2

1.83 million


Graph of the estimated number of U.S. renter households experiencing housing instability during April 2020 to March 2021 of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How has housing insecurity changed for homeowners?

These trends extend to homeowners as well. In late December 2020, 10.6 percent of homeowners (approximately 8.4 million) reported being behind on mortgage payments, compared with 8.8 percent (approximately 7 million) in late March 2021. Only 3.1 percent (2.4 million) of homeowners in late March expressed no confidence in their ability to make future mortgage payments, compared with 5.3 percent (4.2 million) in late December. As a result of their increased housing stability, the number of households who were behind on mortgage payments and believed that foreclosure was either very or somewhat likely in the next 2 months fell from 1.5 million households in late December to 1.3 million households in late March.


Reported Homeowner Circumstance

Week 21 (December 9 - December 21)

Week 27 (March 17 - March 29)

Weighted %

90% CI

Predicted Population N*

Weighted %

90% CI

Predicted Population N*

Owner households with a mortgage who reported not being up to date with mortgage payments

10.56

7.84, 13.28

8.42 million

8.75

5.9, 11.6

6.96 million

Owner households with a mortgage who are "not at all confident" in ability to pay next mortgage payment on time

5.29

3.2, 7.38

4.21 million

3.07

1.5, 4.64

2.44 million

Homeowner households behind on mortgage payments who reported foreclosure was “very likely” in the next 2 months

0.47

0, 4.73

0.374 million

0.58

0, 1.4

0.46 million

Homeowner households behind on mortgage payments who reported foreclosure was "somewhat likely” in the next 2 months

1.58

0.66, 2.5

1.26 million

1.06

0.33, 1.8

0.84 million


How have housing circumstances changed for low-income households?

The Urban Institute estimates that 5.7 million low-income jobs (paying below $40,000) have been lost during the pandemic. The Census Household Pulse Survey breaks out its income data at $35,000, which provides some insight into whether a similar cohort of households who may have experienced job losses are still able to make housing payments. In late December, 4.7 million renter households with incomes below $35,000 reported being behind on rent and another 2.8 million owner households in the same income range were behind on their mortgage. By late March, that number had dropped to 3.4 million renter households and 2.5 million owner households, respectively. We also know that tenants with the lowest incomes are most at risk of evictions. Results from the survey show that 2.2 million households who were behind on rent in late December believed an eviction was likely in the next 2 months, compared with 1.4 million households in late March.

Takeaways

While some differences in numbers could be due to statistical noise from the survey, the decrease in households reporting being behind on housing payments between December 2020 and March 2021 generally reflects an improving economy over that same time period. As more households were able to find work (as evidenced by the decreasing unemployment rate), these households were potentially able to use their earnings to become current on housing payments. Households also received government assistance, whether from stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, and emergency rental assistance from the American Rescue Plan or from the Coronavirus Relief Fund via the CARES Act, which they may have applied to reduce or eliminate back payments on housing. HUD will continue to monitor results from the next phase of the Census Household Pulse Survey to track how the combination of an improving economy and the receipt of payments from provisions within the American Rescue Plan impacts the ability of households, particularly low-income households and households of color, to stay current on their rents and mortgages.