Renters’ Responses to Financial Stress During the Pandemic

Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, Ben Demers, Solomon Greene, Chris Herbert, Alexander Hermann, David Luberoff, Sophia Wedeen

The COVID pandemic has had a particularly large impact on the financial well-being of renters in the US, and over the past year millions have struggled to pay rent. While several national and local surveys have provided useful information and insights into the experiences of financially struggling renters, studies using these surveys differ in scope, scale, and timing. Not surprisingly, then, the different studies have sometimes produced contradictory results, which, in turn, have made it harder for policymakers to assess whether to aid renters, how much aid to provide, and how that aid should be delivered. To help address this issue and inform policymakers, advocates, and researchers, this paper, produced as part of the Housing Crisis Research Collaborative, reviews available research and sources of data on how renters have responded to financial hardship during the pandemic, with the goal of synthesizing the findings into as complete a story as possible about the pandemic’s impact on renters’ finances, housing, and health. We also identify key gaps in our knowledge of how COVID has affected renters and propose potential data collection efforts and research needed to fill these gaps. We conclude by identifying the implications of research on renters’ experiences during the pandemic for policy regarding both the extent of need for assistance and the most appropriate approaches for structuring this support.