New York Times
The U.S. Averted One Housing Crisis, but Another Is in the Wings
A moratorium on evictions did little to address the bigger problem: The country is running out of affordable places for people to live.
By Conor Dougherty and Glenn Thrush
June 16, 2021, 12:01 a.m. ET
The United States averted the most dire predictions about what the pandemic would do to the housing market. An eviction wave never materialized. The share of people behind on mortgages, after falling steadily for months, recently hit its prepandemic level.
But a comprehensive report on housing conditions over the past year makes clear that while one crisis is passing, another is growing much worse.
Like the broader economy, the housing market is split on divergent tracks, according to the annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report released on Wednesday by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. While one group of households is rushing to buy homes with savings built during the pandemic, another is being locked out of ownership as prices march upward — and those who bore the brunt of pandemic job losses remain saddled with debt and in danger of losing their homes.
“Millions of households were financially unscathed coming out of the pandemic,” said Alexander Hermann, senior research analyst at the Joint Center for Housing Studies. “But the pandemic has left millions of others struggling to make their housing payments, especially lower-income households and people of color.”
For the past year, lower-income tenants have relied heavily on government support to pay their monthly bills. These measures have helped — about a third of renters used unemployment or stimulus payments to pay rent at some point during the pandemic — but the majority of renters still had to borrow or draw on savings to cover bills, leaving them less able to weather future emergencies, much less save for personal investments or a down payment for a home.
The result is that even with a patchwork of federal, state and local eviction moratoriums, and some $5 trillion in federal relief that included expanded unemployment benefits and tens of billions in housing assistance, roughly seven million tenants were behind on rent earlier this year. With savings tapped out and unemployment benefits set to lapse, the financial damage to low-income households remains severe enough that they will need more support if they’re to recover with the broader economy, the Harvard report said.
As the U.S. job market recovers and businesses and schools move toward normal operation, political leaders are debating how fast to pull back the emergency supports that helped companies and workers weather the pandemic. That includes the various eviction moratoriums that, despite ample loopholes and patchy enforcement, were instrumental in keeping tenants in their homes.
At the peak last year, the majority of states and several large cities including New York, Los Angeles and Seattle had some sort of heightened eviction protection in place, though the degree of protection varied widely. Many of those safeguards have expired over the past few months, and the federal eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September is set to lapse at the end of the month.