Updated Rent Debt Data Informs Equitable Recovery Efforts

June 2, 2021

Dear Atlas users,

We’ve had an exciting month, from launching the Racial Equity Data Lab to equipping housing advocates across the country with new data on the Covid-driven rent debt crisis. As summer kicks off, we remain focused on producing research and data tools to advance an equitable recovery and shared prosperity. Here are some updates:

Clearing $19 Billion in Back Rent Urgently Needed for Equitable Recovery

This week, we released new national and local data on our Rent Debt Dashboard, produced in partnership with with Right to the City Alliance. As of the end of April, 5.8 million renters — overwhelmingly low-income households of color who’ve lost employment income during the pandemic — owe nearly $19 billion in back rent. With the federal eviction moratorium scheduled to expire at the end of June, clearing this debt is urgently needed to prevent an eviction crisis and make equitable recovery possible. In California, our data was included in a report from Housing NOW, BARHII, and PolicyLink about how the state can strengthen its rental assistance programs. See the data for your community on the dashboard and check out our updated analysis

Rent Debt Data Supports “Cancel the Rent” Campaign in Oregon

In partnership with Oregon’s Community Alliance of Tenants, the Atlas team released a new fact sheet on rent debt and households behind on rent in Oregon. Even as economic recovery is picking up, in Oregon one in 10 renter households, many of whom are people of color and have low incomes, still owe a total of $170 million in back rent. These renters were the hardest hit by pandemic shutdowns and layoffs, underscoring the continued need for renter protections and rent cancellation as part of an equitable recovery. The new data were presented at the Oregon Cancel the Rent Digital Town Hall alongside stories and learnings from tenant leaders. You can find a recording of the town hall here.

Getting Started in the Racial Equity Data Lab: Create Your Own $15/Hour Fact Sheet

Last month, we launched the Racial Equity Data Lab, a new space on the Atlas where you can create unique data displays, dashboards, and maps. The Lab has everything you need to tell your community’s equity story using Atlas data: ready-to-use datasets, data visualization basics, and a step-by-step guide to get you started. You can watch the recording from our introductory webinar here.

Join us this Thursday, June 3, at 12 pm PT for the second installment of our three-part webinar series, “Getting Started in the Racial Equity Data Lab: Create Your Own $15/Hour Fact Sheet.” Through this series, the Atlas team and our partners at Tableau and Lovelytics will walk you through each step of creating your own $15/hour fact sheet, from accessing the data to publishing a custom visualization that you can download, share, and use to advance equitable recovery strategies in your community. If you missed Part 1: Exploring Your Data, you can watch the recording or follow the instructions in the step-by-step guide on the Lab to update the data for your fact sheet. Click here to register for Part 2: Designing Your Data Viz.

Atlas Team Presents to House Committee on Ways and Means

On May 21, the Atlas team shared the National Equity Atlas with the Ways and Means Committee, the chief tax-writing committee of the US House of Representatives on a panel titled, “Measuring What we Value: Bridging Gaps in Data and Reporting on Race and Ethnicity”that included experts in disaggregated data Randall Akee, Nancy Lopez Ninez Ponce, and Rhonda Sharpe. The Committee recently created a Racial Equity Initiative to address the role of racism in perpetuating health and economic inequities. The Atlas team shared our work to highlight the power of disaggregated data to advance equitable, targeted solutions.

You’re Invited: Join the Measurable Equity One Year Challenge

Join Clear Impact and the National Equity Atlas team for a webinar on June 15 (11 am PT / 2 pm ET) to learn more about the Measurable Equity One Year Challenge. Clear Impact designed this challenge to help government, non-profit, and foundation leaders assess, plan, and advance racial equity using a suite of free resources and tools, including a Racial Equity Scorecard powered by Atlas data. Register here.

In the News

This month, U.S. News, The Intercept, Duluth News Tribune, Governing, The Daily Californian, MPR News, Berkeley News, Minn Post, and AL.com all cited findings from our Rent Debt Dashboard, on both the national and local level. StreetsBlog cited our commute time indicator, which reveals that Black workers have 12 percent longer commute times than their White counterparts. Finally, Reuters covered the launch of our Racial Equity Data Lab.

- The National Equity Atlas team at PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute (ERI)

Using Data to Protect Renters from Eviction; Join Us to Learn More About the New National Equity Atlas

August 11, 2020

Dear Atlas users,

We hope you and your loved ones are staying well during this difficult time. Since the release of the updated National Equity Atlas, our team has been hard at work producing data and analysis to support local advocacy efforts and sharing the Atlas with communities and leaders across the field. Last week, Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink Founder in Residence, delivered the keynote address at the Community Indicators Consortium’s 2020 Virtual Impact Summit, noting that "If you want change, you must use data to understand the change you need. Until we understand how we treat Black people, we are not dealing with oppression and exclusion in America.” Sarah Treuhaft, VP of Research at PolicyLink, also presented on the use of equity data for building community power and policy change. And we shared the newly revamped Atlas and debuted the Racial Equity Index in a July 29 webinar (view the recording here). Here are a few other highlights:

New Analyses: Eviction Risk Factsheets Power Local Organizing

In recent weeks, the Atlas team and our community partners have produced a series of factsheets on eviction risk in counties and states nationwide. The factsheets include data on how many households are currently at risk of eviction and homelessness, which households are rent burdened (disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and gender), as well as the voices of tenants impacted by the economic downturn. Our first factsheet for Contra Costa County, produced in partnership with Raise the Roof Coalition, was used in organizing efforts to extend the eviction moratorium. Since then, we have produced factsheets for Florida, California, and Sonoma and San Mateo counties, with many more factsheets currently in the works. All factsheets will be available on the National Equity Atlas.


You’re Invited: Disaggregating Data with the National Equity Atlas

Join the Atlas team on August 19 to learn how to unlock the power of disaggregated data for your city, region, or state. The National Equity Atlas offers unparalleled data disagreggation by race/ethnicity, gender, nativity, ancestry, and other characteristics to inform and support local efforts to advance racial and economic equity. This webinar will equip participants with the know-how to access, understand, share, and use this disaggregated data to foster more equitable communities. Register now.
 

Atlas in the News: Providing Deeply Disaggregated Data to Power the Equity Movement

NC News Daily used our new Racial Equity Index to look at the state of equity in North Carolina cities and identify key gaps and policy priorities. As Abbie Langston, Senior Associate at PolicyLink, noted, “Raleigh and Durham are among the 20 cities with the highest prosperity scores for Black residents on the index. But even in these places where people of color are doing relatively well, we still see deep and persistent inequities that must be addressed explicitly.” Another article from software company Tableau lifted up our work in discussing racial equity data visualizations, emphasizing the need for deep disaggregation by race and ethnicity. “If you don’t disaggregate, you miss a lot of what is happening for some segments of the population, especially people that have been marginalized and discriminated against,” explained Sarah Treuhaft. The Atlantic, Fast Company, and Philanthropy News Digest wrote articles about the Atlas this month while other reporters have drawn on our data to better understand issues like eviction risk, the racial wealth gap, and job losses due to Covid-19. Find a complete list of coverage here.

Rent Debt in America: Stabilizing Renters Is Key to Equitable Recovery

Our new rent debt dashboard, produced in partnership with the Right to the City Alliance, equips policymakers and advocates with data on the extent and nature of rent debt in their communities to inform policies to eliminate debt and prevent the specter of mass eviction. 

By Sarah Treuhaft, Jamila Henderson, Michelle Huang, Alex Ramiller, and Justin Scoggins

Mounting rent debt and the potential for mass eviction is one of the most pressing equity issues created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The vast majority of renters who are in debt are low-wage workers —  disproportionately people of color — who’ve suffered job and income losses due to the pandemic. Without sufficient eviction protection, debt relief, and financial support, these Covid-impacted renters will be left behind — deepening inequities at a moment when the federal government has prioritized addressing systemic racism and ensuring an equitable recovery.

To inform the national policy debate, as well as local and state policymaking and advocacy, the National Equity Atlas and the Right to the City Alliance have launched a new rent debt dashboard with near real-time data on the number and characteristics of renters behind on rent for the US, 45 states, and 15 metro areas.* The dashboard provides estimates of the amount of back rent owed for these geographies, as well as estimates for the number of households with debt and the amount owed for all counties in the 45 states. Drawing current data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and the University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research's Understanding Coronavirus in America survey, the dashboard data will be refreshed approximately every two weeks. Find our full methodology here.

Born out of the need for accessible, current data to inform local and state campaigns, the dashboard was produced in partnership with the Right to the City Alliance, a network of community-based organizations working in 45 cities and 26 states to prevent displacement, expand affordable housing, and build just, sustainable cities for all.

This analysis shares key insights from the dashboard, based on the March 17-29 Pulse survey, as well as action steps that local, state, and federal policymakers can take to stabilize the people most negatively impacted by the pandemic and facilitate equitable recovery by addressing the challenge of rent debt head-on.  

Rent debt continues to be a significant issue, with millions of renters — 14 percent of all renter households — currently behind on rent.

As of the end of March 2021, 5.7 million renters – 14 percent of all renter households – were behind on their rent payments, placing them at risk of eviction in the absence of strong eviction moratoria and other renter protections. For comparison, nearly 8 million households lost their homes to foreclosure due to the 2008 financial crisis.

The Pulse survey has been asking the question “Is this household currently caught up on rent payments?” every two weeks since August 2020. Nationally, the current share of renters with debt is down from a high of 19 percent in mid-January, but remains far higher than the pre-pandemic baseline. While data on rent debt is sparse, the 2017 American Housing Survey found that about seven percent of renters were unable to pay some or all of their rent. 

Among states, the current share of renters with debt ranges from a high of 22 percent in Alabama to a low of 6 percent in both Maine and Utah. Among the 15 metros included in the Pulse survey, the share behind ranges from a high of 23 percent in Miami to a low of 8 percent in Boston.

Nationally, we estimate that rent debt amounts to about $20 billion.

According to our estimates, households that are behind on rent owe $3,400 on average, for a total of $19.75 billion nationwide. As this average suggests, the majority of households that are behind owe one or two months of back rent. However, a smaller but not insignificant number of renters have not been able to pay rent for many months and owe much larger amounts. Our analysis of the University of Southern California’s Understanding Coronavirus in America national survey finds that 25 percent are one month behind and 28 percent are two months behind, 12.5 percent are three months behind, about 29 percent are between four  and 12 months behind, and 5.5 percent have not paid rent for the entire pandemic. 

The average amount owed depends primarily on local housing costs, so it varies significantly across states and metros. Among states, Hawaii has the highest average rent debt per behind household ($5,500), while Arkansas has the lowest ($2,100). At the metro level, San Francisco and Washington DC have the highest average debts ($5,300 and $5,100, respectively), while Detroit has the lowest average debt by far ($2,500), followed by Atlanta ($3,100). 

Our national estimates of rent debt fall somewhere in the middle of existing projections in terms of total debt, and on the lower end in terms of per household amount. In January, Moody’s Analytics projected that 6.3 million renters would owe a total of $33 billion in rent debt by March, at an average of $5,282 per household. Stout Analytics estimated that between two and five million renter households owed between $13 and $24 billion as of January. Both Moody’s and Stout used the Pulse survey to inform their estimates of the number of households behind. Using a very different methodology based on modeling employment losses, income supports, and spending choices at the household level, and not incorporating the Pulse survey data, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia estimated that 1.8 million renter households would owe $11 billion in rent in March, at approximately $6,100 per household. 

With the reopening of the economy, the number of renters with debt appears to be declining overall; however, it is increasing in some states and regions.

Nationwide, the share of renters with debt appears to be trending downward from a high of 19 percent in January 2021. Nearly all states and metros are following this pattern, or generally holding stable, but there are a few exceptions. The rates of renters with arrears have been increasing since late-February in Alaska, California, Florida, Nevada, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Among metros, Detroit, Miami, Riverside, and Seattle are seeing increasing numbers of renters with debt in this recent time period. It will be important to keep a close watch on these places in the coming weeks to assess the situation — particularly in Alaska, Florida, Miami, and Riverside, where rates of behind renter households are at or above 20 percent and have been rising over the past month. 

The vast majority of those who are behind on rent are low-income households who’ve lost jobs and income during the pandemic.

Today’s rent debt crisis is entirely a consequence of the pandemic’s economic fallout: 76 percent of those who are behind on rent lost employment income at some point during the pandemic. As our other research has shown, low-wage workers, who are disproportionately workers of color, were hardest hit by pandemic job losses, and it is these same households that are most likely to suffer from rent debt. Among households with rent debt, 78 percent are low-income (with earnings less than $50,000 per year) and 63 percent are renters of color. The majority (55 percent) are currently unemployed.

Renters have made tremendous sacrifices and tradeoffs to stay current on rent, including foregoing medical care, delaying payment of other bills, eating cheaper (and potentially less healthy) food, and voluntarily moving in with friends and family — increasing risk of Covid-19 exposure while losing their housing stability. One of the most surprising facts in the data is the high share of low-income renters who are paid in full: Among low-income households that lost employment income during the pandemic, 73 percent are not behind on rent. This underscores how paying rent has remained a top priority for all renters throughout the pandemic, despite the moratoria on evictions.

Rent is not the only debt accumulating for renters.

While our analysis focuses on back rent, renters’ pandemic debt crisis extends far beyond their obligations to their landlords. Many renters are borrowing from family and friends or taking on other forms of debt in order to make rent and pay for household expenses. Among households behind on rent, 44 percent borrowed from friends or family to pay rent, compared with just 16 percent of households current on rent. About 30 percent of all renter households, whether behind or current on rent, used a credit card (or some other form of debt) to pay rent. Many are behind on other bills, such as utilities or car payments. A survey of water debt in California found that 1.6 million households owed $1 billion on water bills — $500 on average.

Renters of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are more likely to owe back rent, making them more vulnerable to eviction risk.

In the United States, renters are already a more vulnerable population as a whole: they have little housing security, paltry savings, and few legal protections from exorbitant rent increases or eviction (outside of a few states and cities with strong tenant movements). Historic and continuing housing and lending discrimination, as well as systemic inequities in our labor market, have contributed to large racial inequities in homeownership. Atlas data shows that seven in 10 White households own their homes while the majority of Black, Latinx, and multiracial households rent. 

The challenge of unaffordable rents and flat wages add to this underlying housing insecurity among renters. Renters were already in crisis when the pandemic began: about a third of White renters and just under half of Black and Latinx renters were both economically insecure (earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level) and rent burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent). Gender is another important axis: women of color are most likely to be rent burdened, and disproportionately face eviction.

Covid-19 added yet another layer of inequity to these preexisting disparities. Today, 11 percent of White renters are behind on rent, compared to 18 percent of Asian renters, 20 percent of Latinx renters, and 26 percent of Black renters.

Eliminating Rent Debt is an Equity Imperative and a Moral, Economic, and Public Health Necessity

Today’s rent debt crisis is a microcosm of the wretched inequality of the pandemic: millions of renter households – most of them people of color – now face the burden of owing back rent due to a public health crisis that had extremely concentrated negative economic impacts on low-wage workers. These unequal consequences are not random, but the predictable result of past policies that left millions of families with no savings to draw upon in the face of an economic shock, as well as the failed early policy response to the pandemic. Although the CARES Act provided important unemployment benefits and cash assistance as well as an eviction moratorium that helped many pandemic-impacted renters, undocumented and mixed-status families were ineligible for assistance and the moratorium ended in July, leaving renters unprotected until the CDC enacted its moratorium in early September. Moreover, absent meaningful financial assistance to pay back rent, the moratoria simply delay eviction. Yet, the federal government provided no rent relief until December, nine months into the pandemic.

The magnitude of rent debt is a crisis in and of itself and the leading indicator of a potential eviction tsunami that would be a humanitarian disaster. Rent debt adds a heavy burden onto families who are already financially insecure and struggling during the pandemic, further limiting their choices and creating additional stress. It’s also contributing to the growth of the racial wealth gap: while renters, predominantly people of color, currently hold $20 billion in debt, homeowners, who are predominantly White, saw a $1.5 trillion increase in their home equity between October 2019 and October 2020 as competition for a constrained supply of homes drove prices up. At a time when racial equity is at the forefront of the policy debate, eliminating rent debt that has unfairly and unequally accrued for people of color should be an urgent priority.

Clearing rent debt is also key to staving off the specter of mass eviction, which would directly harm economically vulnerable families and their communities and have long-term ripple effects throughout our economy. Eviction has significant negative consequences for mental and physical health, educational outcomes, and household finances. Some evicted families and individuals would become homeless, with devastating consequences for long-term health and well-being as well as significant costs for local governments. 

The health impacts of eviction and homelessness are even more severe during a pandemic. Research during the pandemic found that states that allowed evictions to proceed had more Covid infections and deaths than those with eviction moratoria. Although the vaccination campaign is in full swing and Covid cases are low in most states, there are hotspots with high infection rates and the longer-term picture remains uncertain.

Forgiving rent debt is also essential to an equitable and people-centered recovery: one in which those hardest-hit by the pandemic can fully participate and thrive.

To Build Back Better, Policymakers Must Clear Rent Debt and Prevent Eviction

Recognizing the catastrophic impact of mass eviction, policymakers have responded, albeit belatedly, by enacting eviction moratoria and establishing rent relief funds. The federal CDC eviction moratorium scheduled to expire last month was extended through June 30th, and the American Rescue Plan passed in January provided $25.1 billion for rental assistance programs as well as $350 billion in fiscal support for state and local governments, some of which could be allocated toward debt relief. The December 27 coronavirus relief bill also provided $25 billion in funding for rental assistance. 

These are important steps, and more must be done to ensure that all struggling renters emerge from this crisis safely in their homes with no debt. The eviction moratorium is far from airtight: many evictions are still proceeding, and renters need stronger protections. In addition, rent relief programs are not reaching all of those with need; these programs must be structured to meet the scale of the crisis, both to efficiently deliver resources and to ensure that resources are distributed equitably, reaching the low-income renters of color hardest hit by the pandemic who were already housing insecure before Covid-19.

As they design rent relief programs, local and state policymakers should implement policies that adhere to the following equitable, common sense principles: 

  • No renter, regardless of immigration status, should be evicted or burdened with years of debt for rent that they were unable to pay during the pandemic.
  • Rent debt due to the pandemic should be fully forgiven and should not be conditioned on landlords’ acceptance of funds or participation in programs.

  • Financial assistance to landlords should address the fiscal needs of landlords in danger of going out of business due to lost rent, with a particular focus on keeping small community-based landlords and nonprofit affordable housing operators solvent, rather than attempting to achieve full rent replacement for all landlords. California’s program, negotiated with the state’s landlord association, provides an example: landlords receive 80 percent of back rent owed.

  • Local municipalities’ authority to pass stronger eviction and debt protection laws should be preserved.

  • Landlords should continue to fulfill their legal obligations to tenants regardless of whether they receive assistance, including the duty to maintain habitable premises, refrain from harassment and retaliation against tenants, and respecting tenants’ legal rights. 

For more local policy ideas and examples, see https://ourhomesourhealth.org

* The number of renter respondents to the Pulse survey for Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming was insufficient to produce reliable data to include in the dashboard.

New Data Dashboard Tracks Rent Debt in States, Regions, and Counties

April 27, 2021

Dear Atlas users,

With the conviction of Derek Chauvin, the Atlas team stands in solidarity with George Floyd’s family. True justice would be a world where George Floyd was never murdered. We remain committed to supporting the fight for racial equity and systemic justice through our analyses, disaggregated data tools, and campaign support. Here are some updates:

Join Us for the Launch of the Racial Equity Data Lab on May 6

The National Equity Atlas is America’s most detailed report card on racial and economic equity – and now we’re democratizing our data even further help you to build your own custom Atlas-powered data dashboards. Join us on May 6 at 12:00pm Pacific / 3:00 Eastern for the launch of the Racial Equity Data Lab, a new space on the Atlas where you can create unique data displays, dashboards, and maps. The Lab has everything you need to tell your community’s equity story using Atlas data: ready-to-use datasets, data visualization basics, and a step-by-step guide to get you started. We’ll also share a starter dashboard focused on the importance of raising the minimum wage. For example, in Dallas, fewer workers earn at least $15 now than in 1980, due entirely to racial inequities. Join this webinar to hear more about the Lab, how we’re using it to support equity campaigns, and how to create custom data visualizations for your community. Register now!

New Rent Debt Dashboard Tracks Covid Impacts to Support Broad Renter Protections

Stabilizing renters experiencing housing insecurity is key to an equitable recovery and lasting prosperity for our communities, so we partnered with Right to the City Alliance to equip advocates and policymakers with timely, local data on the extent of renter debt and the characteristics of households affected by it. Our regularly updated data reveals that the renters behind on rent owe an average of $3,400 – and the vast majority of them are low-wage workers, disproportionately people of color, who’ve suffered job and income losses due to the economic shutdowns. Without sufficient eviction protection, debt relief, and financial support, these Covid-impacted renters will be left behind. Visit the rent debt dashboard to see the data for your community, and check out our accompanying analysis.

In the News

This month, Forbes highlighted the Atlas as a key tool for advancing racial equity on a municipal level. Denver7 TV aired a story featuring the findings and implications of our rent debt analysis, and Planetizen also highlighted the data in our rent debt dashboard. Government Affairs called for the Biden Administration to develop equity indicators modeled after the Atlas. And ABC Cleveland, Energy News Network, and Akron Beacon Journal all cited our data in their coverage of racial inequities. See a complete list of media coverage here.

- The National Equity Atlas team at PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute (ERI)

New Analysis Reveals Massive Renter Debt in California

March 25, 2021

Dear Atlas users,

The Atlas team stands in solidarity with the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community in this moment of heightened discrimination, hatred, and violence. As we reckon with our nation’s long history of racism and xenophobia, disaggregated data is crucial for advancing racial equity and justice. Here are a few updates:

Ancestry Matters: Racial Subgroup Data in the National Equity Atlas

Asian and Pacific Islander activists and organizations have warned about the ‘model minority’ myth for decades. While the API population as a whole often fares above average on socioeconomic indicators, such metrics render invisible subgroup populations within the API community who face barriers to economic opportunities and inclusion. To illustrate the diversity of experiences and outcomes within broad racial/ethnic groups, the Atlas includes subgroup data for several of our economic opportunity and connectedness indicators, including median wage, unemployment, the percentage of workers making $15/hour, disconnected youth, homeownership, and educational attainment. To view this data, navigate to your indicator of choice and then select “by ancestry” from the Breakdown menu.

New Data Shows that 1 in 7 California Renter Households Are Behind on Rent

In partnership with Housing Now!, the Atlas team released an updated fact sheet analyzing rent debt in California (also available in Spanish), as well as a rent debt fact sheet for the Bay Area. We found that over 814,000 households were behind on rent in January, or 14 percent of all renter households. Renters owe an estimated $2.4 billion in back rent (an average of $2,900 per household). Eliminating rent debt is critical to equitable recovery: the vast majority of renters with debt are low-income, Covid-impacted renters of color. The new data was featured during #TenantTuesday to raise awareness about California’s rent forgiveness program, which will provide crucial relief.

You’re invited: Using Disaggregated Data to Advance Workforce Equity

You’re invited to join the National Equity Atlas team and our partners at the National Fund for Workforce Solutions for a three-part webinar series on using disaggregated data to develop high-impact workforce strategies for racial equity. Through our Advancing Workforce Equity project, we spent two years working closely with local leaders to analyze tailored workforce data, identify the key drivers of inequity, and prioritize actionable strategies to advance equity through policy, programs, and investments. In this webinar series we’ll share the tools and approaches that guided this research, along with lessons from the field.

  • Part 1: Accessing and Exploring Relevant Data from the National Equity Atlas
    April 14, 11 am – 12 pm PT / 2 pm – 3 pm ET
    This session will focus on using the National Equity Atlas to access and understand deeply disaggregated data for your city, region, or state. Register here.
  • Part 2: Analyzing Systemic Drivers of Inequity
    April 21, 11 am – 12 pm PT / 2 pm – 3 pm ET
    The second session will equip attendees with strategies to analyze disaggregated data and identify the root causes of inequitable workforce outcomes. Register here.
  • Part 3: Developing High-Impact Workforce Equity Strategies
    April 28, 11 am – 12 pm PT / 2 pm – 3 pm ET
    Finally, the third session of this webinar series will feature lessons and tools developed through our work with local leaders in the Advancing Workforce Equity project. Register here.

In the News

This month, news outlets including Yahoo Finance and the Washington Post covered our indicators, while The Guardian, The Mercury News, and The Press Democrat covered our analysis of renter debt in California. Find a complete list of media coverage here.

And don’t miss “Putting People First: Reimagining OUR Economy,” a recent episode of the Radical Imagination podcast featuring Manuel Pastor and Saru Jayaraman on the fight for one fair wage and a solidarity economy. PolicyLink and its partners at Unfinished invite you to reflect and respond to the question, "What does an economy that puts people first look like?" Submit your responses at RadicalImagination.us, or on social media using #RadicalImagination and #ThisIsUnfinished

- The National Equity Atlas team at PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute (ERI)

Getting Started with the Lab

The Racial Equity Data Lab is a space for equity champions to combine their own expertise on their community’s experiences, assets, and needs with the deeply disaggregated data in the Atlas using Tableau Public.

In the Lab you can:

1. Access Tableau 

Visit our Using Tableau page to set up your own account to use the Tableau Public app or work directly in the Tableau Public site using your internet browser.

2. Create Your Own $15/Hour Fact Sheet

Download our starter viz to create and customize a $15/hour fact sheet for your geography. The Step-by-Step Guide provides instructions on how to select your geography, customize the elements of the $15/hour fact sheet, explore the data, and incorporate your own expertise on why a $15/hour minimum wage matters for racial equity in your community.

3. Access Data

Access Tableau-ready data sets to download Tableau starter workbooks for Atlas indicators. The Housing Burden starter workbook and Median Wages starter workbook include built-in features such as example charts, filters, and parameters to allow users to explore the data by year, geography, race, sex, nativity, and ancestry. 

4. Design Your Own Data Visualizations

Using Data Visualization Basics and best practices, create a data visualization that illustrates key data points, identifies underlying causes and drivers of inequity, and lifts up powerful equity solutions.

5. Explore Equity Data Visualizations

Explore our Gallery page to view other racial equity data visualizations built through the Lab. 

 

 

Getting Started with the National Equity Atlas

The National Equity Atlas is a one-stop-shop for data and policy ideas to advance racial equity and shared prosperity. Our focus is providing equity metrics that are deeply disaggregated by race/ethnicity, gender, nativity, ancestry, and income for the largest 100 cities, 150 regions, all 50 states, and the United States as a whole.

We built this site to democratize data and make the facts accessible and actionable to everyone — including the grassroots organizations that possess invaluable firsthand knowledge of inequities yet often lack the resources to gather, analyze, and display the quantitative data so crucial to policy campaigns to address them. At the click of a button, you can see how your community is doing in comparison to other communities according to our Racial Equity Index and 30 relevant, useful, field-tested indicators of racial and economic equity.

Now we are thrilled to share the latest innovation in our suite of data and policy tools: the Racial Equity Data Lab. The Lab is a new space on the Atlas designed to help equity advocates and campaign leaders to build  custom Atlas-powered  dashboards, data displays, and maps. The Lab has everything you need to tell your community’s equity story: ready-to-use datasets, data visualization basics, and a step-by-step guide to get you started. It also includes a starter visualization that you can use as a template to create a $15/hour factsheet for your community.

Ready to dig in to the National Equity Atlas? Here are the essential features to help you explore the indicators and unlock the power of our unparalleled data disaggregation.

1. Indicator and Geography Selection Toolbar: Your Home Base

Next, explore the individual indicators in the Atlas. Once you are on the page for any indicator, the first interactive element you will find is the Indicator and Geography Selection Toolbar. This toolbar allows you to choose which of our 30 indicators you want to explore for any of the 272 geographies in the National Equity Atlas. To do so, follow these five steps:

A) Select any indicator, either from the dropdown menu under Indicators or from the Indicators introductory page
B) Choose your indicator group (Demographics, Economic Vitality, Readiness, Connectedness, or Economic Benefits)
C) Choose your indicator from the dropdown menu
D) Choose your geography type (Nation, State, Region, City)
E) Choose your geography from the dropdown menu
 
Here is how it looks for our Race/ethnicity indicator for the Orlando region:
 
Note that the number of geography types available to you will differ from indicator to indicator, based on data availability. For example, you will not see “City” for the Economic gains: Racial equity in income indicator because data is not available for those smaller geographies for that indicator.
 
Also, once you are on an indicator page, scroll down for key insights about the indicator, the drivers of inequity, policy solutions to consider, and additional resources.
 
  • MASTER IT: Change the geography and pull up the trend data for a community. What groups are growing and which are shrinking?

2. Chart Breakdowns and Filters: Explore the Data

The Chart Breakdown and Filters feature is the true engine for data exploration in the National Equity Atlas. This is where you can disaggregate the data such as race/ethnicity, race and nativity, race and gender, ancestry, and poverty level. It is also where you can get indicator-specific breakdowns of the data, such as business ownership by race and by industry or commute time by race and transportation mode.

Take these steps to use the Chart Breakdown and Filters feature:

A) Select your breakdown
B) Select one or more filters
 

Here is how it looks for our Working poor indicator for the city of Albuquerque:

  • MASTER IT: Explore the different breakdowns and filters for this indicator. Which groups are most likely to be working full-time but still in poverty or economically insecure (living below 200 percent of poverty) in your community?

3. Compare: See How Your Community Stacks Up

A fourth essential feature — also in the Indicator and Geography Selection Toolbar — is the Compare function. Comparison is a very important method for analyzing equity metrics, allowing you to see how your community (or a group in your community) is doing in relation to other communities (or the same group in a different community). This can help you understand the extent of disparities, assess what are the drivers of inequities, identify strategies to remove barriers, and set goals for progress on eliminating inequities.

Here is how to use the Compare function:

A) Select compare
B) Select a comparison geography type from the dropdown menu
C) Select a comparison geography from the dropdown menu
 
And this is how it looks for our Working poor indicator, comparing the city of Albuquerque to the state of New Mexico: 

Note that the Compare function is not available for indicator breakdowns that contain multiple categories over multiple years (like the Race/ethnicity indicator you just looked at) because the display would not be legible.

  • MASTER IT: Compare working poverty trends in your city and your state.

4. Map Filters and Full Extent: Visualizing Patterns

Mapping data by geography puts spatial inequities — which are also racial inequities, due to housing segregation and discrimination — into stark relief. The National Equity Atlas team has worked hard to create a custom mapping system that enables clear visualization of patterns across communities and correlations between race, place, and income.

Follow these steps to Map Filters and Full Extent features:

A) In the chart breakdown, select the map breakdown
B) Under map geography, choose your geography type (Nation, State, Region, City)
C) Select map filters
D) Select map full extent
E) Select a demographic group
F) Use the slider to see how communities with higher and lower shares of your selected demographic group perform on the indicator
 
Here is how it looks for our Rent burden indicator for the St. Louis metro region, looking at majority Black communities by selecting Percent Black, 50% in the map filter:

5. Downloads and Social Media Buttons: Share and Use Data Visualizations

The National Equity Atlas is a tool for community action, and we wanted to make it easy for you to use the data to highlight issues of inequity, build support for campaigns, and make your case for solutions with policymakers and others in positions of power. We also believe in open data and know that you want to be able to explore the raw data yourself. That’s why we built more sharing and download functionality into the National Equity Atlas.

Follow these steps to access our Download and Sharing features:

A) Select download type (Image or Excel worksheet)
B) Select sharing type (Facebook, Twitter, Email)
 
Here is how it looks for our Rent burden map for St. Louis:

  • MASTER IT: Download an Excel file to examine the data behind a chart or map. Post a National Equity Atlas chart or map on your Facebook or Twitter page.

6. Racial Equity Index

The new Racial Equity Index — available for all geographies in the Atlas — allows you to track how well your community is doing on a set of nine equity indicators compared with other communities (and over time). The index summarizes an inclusion score (which measures racial disparities on nine indicators) and a prosperity score (which measures overall performance levels on those same indicators), and can be further broken down into its components to help you identify the most important challenges and areas of progress to develop targeted equity strategies. You can also examine the prosperity score for each of six major racial/ethnic groups. Here is how to access the index:

A) Go to the Racial Equity Index under Research
C) Choose your geography type (Nation, State, Region, City)
D) Choose your geography from the dropdown menu
E) Explore the data
F) Go back to Racial Equity Index to examine the Prosperity scores for the Black, Latinx, Native American, Asian or Pacific Islander, Mixed/other race, and White Populations.
 
Here is how the index page looks for Minneapolis-St. Paul metro region.
 
Thank you for exploring the National Equity Atlas! We hope you are excited enough about these features to let your colleagues know about this new tool. We encourage you to join the discussion on social media using the hashtag #equitydata.

Step-by-Step Guide to Create Your Own $15/Hour Fact Sheet

With three easy steps you can create a dashboard with six charts showing who earns at least $15/hour in your community.

This tutorial describes how you can create a $15/hour fact sheet for your community using Atlas data and Tableau. All you will need is a Tableau Public account and an internet connection. Instructions on how to set up a Tableau Public account can be found on our Using Tableau page.

Step 1: Login to your Tableau Public account at https://public.tableau.com/s/  
Step 2: Open the Starter Viz in Tableau Public and click "edit" in the top right corner
Step 3: Adjust for your geography by clicking on the icon to the right of the "All" sheet name

Screenshot showing icon to open All sheet

Double click on the Geo Name pill in the Filters card.

Screenshot showing select Geo Type filter

Unselect “Dallas City, TX” and select your city from the list of available geographies. Once you confirm only one selection has been made, click “OK” in the popup window.

Screenshot to unselect Dallas from list of geo types
Screenshot showing select city from list
Screenshow showing confirmation only one selection made

Navigate back to the $15/hour Dashboard tab at the bottom of the browser screen.

Screenshot showing navigation back to Dashboard tab

All the data visuals are now updated to show the data for the city you selected!

Customize your Fact Sheet

Use the guide below to explore the data and update the text in the factsheet. 

  1. Explore: What does the data show for your community?

Explore the updated data for your selected geography and highlight key takeaways from the data that shows who currently earns a living wage in your community.

Guiding questions to consider:

  • What share of workers earn at least $15/hour? How has it changed over time? Does that trend look different for White workers than for workers of color? 
  • Which racial group is the most likely to earn a living wage? Do you observe any differences by race?
  • When looking at race and gender, which workers are the least likely to earn at least $15/hour? How has that changed over time?
  • Look at immigrant versus US-born workers: do you observe any differences based on nativity?
  • Look at Asian or Pacific Islander ancestry to observe subgroups within each population: do you observe any differences between subgroups? Are all subgroups able to access $15/hour wages at the same rate as the Asian or Pacific Islander group overall? 
  • Has higher education attainment changed over time for the overall population? How about within each racial group? Are workers with similar education attainment equally likely to be earning at least $15/hour across racial groups? Do differences in educational attainment explain the different rates?

Consider adding: Help your audience understand who are the workers that a living wage would most benefit. Interview workers that currently earn less than $15/hour about their experiences and include quotes or insights from those interviews in the viz. 

Double-click on any header to edit the headlines and titles for each chart. 

Screenshot showing editing of headers by double clicking on text boxes
  1. Help your audience understand the context and why this matters:

In the Tableau workbook, edit the text to include key information that would ensure your audience understands what current wage conditions are for workers in your community, and why a $15/hour or living wage would improve equity and how it would impact the local economy.

Guiding questions to consider:

  • What is the current minimum wage in your city/state? What is the current tipped wage?
  • When was it last updated? Does it match the living wage needs? (If you are unsure of the living wage for your location, you can look this up using the MIT Living Wage calculator)
  • Have there been any key legislative changes or laws regarding minimum wage in your city/county/state?
  • Who comes to mind when most people imagine a worker in your community that would benefit from $15/hour? Is that an accurate profile?

Consider adding: Include a profile or quote of someone who represents a key population who is currently not earning a living wage in your city/county/state.

Screenshot showing edit context section
  1. Include Equity Solutions:

In the Tableau workbook, edit the text regarding what leaders can do. Include key information that would ensure your audience understands what specific policies and actions they can support and advocate for that would ensure a living wage for all workers.

Guiding questions to consider:

  • Why would a $15/hour minimum wage improve equity in your city/county/state?
  • What can your policymakers do to ensure that all workers are paid a living wage?
  • Is there any specific legislation currently being discussed?
  • What can businesses do to ensure that all their workers are paid a living wage?
  • What do you want your audience to take as a next step to support a living wage for all workers?
  • Are there additional resources you want to include to help people learn more or take next steps? Consider including references to other resources and organizations.

Consider adding these equity solutions to your viz:

  • Raise the minimum wage federally and at the local or state level.
  • Enact living-wage laws that require government offices and contractors to pay living wages.
  • Strengthen workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively for a living wage, including passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.
  • Establish standards to ensure public investments in economic development and infrastructure create living-wage jobs.
  • Pursue full-employment economic policies that promote hiring, increased work hours, and living wages for low-wage workers including a federal job guarantee.

Screenshot showing edit equity solutions section
  1. Publish your Dashboard

You can now click publish to see your final dashboard! In the File menu, click on "Save As…", name your workbook then click “Save”.

Screenshot showing Save As from file menu to publish

Once the workbook has uploaded successfully, you will automatically be taken to your Tableau Public profile page, where you can view your final dashboard. Click on "Edit details" in the top pop-up banner to edit your title, description, and select settings including if you want to allow others to download and explore the workbook. 

  1. Share your Dashboard

You can share your dashboard several ways:

  • Send a link: Copy the link and share it!
  • Send an email using your default email application: Click on the email icon.
  • Share on Twitter or Facebook by clicking on the corresponding icons.
  • Embed the dashboard on your website: Copy the embed code and paste it in your web page HTML.

You can also download the visualization as an image, PowerPoint, or PDF file. 

Screenshot showing download and share buttons

 

Submit your customized fact sheet to the Racial Equity Data Lab!

Submissions are reviewed by the National Equity Atlas team and selected vizzes may be highlighted in the Racial Equity Data Lab Gallery. Click here to share your viz with us.

Rent Debt in America: Stabilizing Renters Is Key to Equitable Recovery

Our rent debt dashboard, produced in partnership with the Right to the City Alliance, equips policymakers and advocates with data on the extent and nature of rent debt in their communities to inform policies to eliminate debt and prevent the specter of mass eviction. 

By Sarah Treuhaft, Jamila Henderson, Michelle Huang, Alex Ramiller, and Justin Scoggins

Mounting rent debt and the potential for mass eviction is one of the most pressing equity issues created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The vast majority of renters who are in debt are low-wage workers —  disproportionately people of color — who’ve suffered job and income losses due to the pandemic. Without sufficient eviction protection, debt relief, and financial support, these Covid-impacted renters will be left behind — deepening inequities at a moment when the federal government has prioritized addressing systemic racism and ensuring an equitable recovery.

To inform the national policy debate, as well as local and state policymaking and advocacy, in April 2021, the National Equity Atlas and the Right to the City Alliance launched a rent debt dashboard with near real-time data on the number and characteristics of renters behind on rent for the US, 41 states, and 15 metro areas.* The dashboard provides estimates of the amount of back rent owed for these geographies, as well as estimates for the number of households with debt and the amount owed for all counties in the 41 states. Drawing current data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and the University of Southern California Center for Economic and Social Research's Understanding Coronavirus in America survey, the dashboard data is refreshed approximately every two weeks. Find our full methodology here.

Born out of the need for accessible, current data to inform local and state campaigns, the dashboard was produced in partnership with the Right to the City Alliance, a network of community-based organizations working in 45 cities and 26 states to prevent displacement, expand affordable housing, and build just, sustainable cities for all.

This analysis shares key insights from the dashboard, based on the April 14-26 Pulse survey, as well as action steps that local, state, and federal policymakers can take to stabilize the people most negatively impacted by the pandemic and facilitate equitable recovery by addressing the challenge of rent debt head-on.

Please see the dashboard for more recent data from the April 28-May 10 Pulse survey. We will be updating the dashboard with the May 12-24 survey data as well as this analysis after the data is released on June 16. Find our previous analysis here.

Rent debt continues to be a significant issue, with 5.8 million renter households behind on rent.

As of the end of April 2021, 5.8 million renters – 14 percent of all renter households – were behind on their rent payments. Renters with arrears will be at imminent risk of eviction in the absence of strong eviction moratoria and other renter protections, and the current federal eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is scheduled to expire June 30. As a point of comparison, nearly 8 million households lost their homes to foreclosure due to the 2008 financial crisis.

The Pulse survey has been asking the question “Is this household currently caught up on rent payments?” every two weeks since August 2020. Nationally, the current share of renters with debt is down from a high of 19 percent in mid-January, but remains far higher than the pre-pandemic baseline. While data on rent debt is sparse, the 2017 American Housing Survey found that about seven percent of renters were unable to pay some or all of their rent. 

The share of renters who are behind on rent is much higher than the national average in some states and metro areas. Alabama has the highest share of renters with arrears (29 percent), and at least 20 percent of renters are behind in the states of Arkansas, South Carolina, Maryland, and New Jersey. Rhode Island has the lowest share of renters with debt (2 percent) followed by Utah (5 percent).

Among the 15 metros included in the Pulse survey, Atlanta has the highest share of renters with debt (24 percent), followed by Miami (20 percent), New York City and San Francisco (19 percent), and Washington DC (18 percent). Phoenix has the lowest share of renters in arrears among the 15 metros (7 percent).

 

Nationally, we estimate that rent debt amounts to about $19 billion.

According to our estimates, households that are behind on rent owe $3,200 on average, for a total of $18.6 billion nationwide. As this average suggests, the majority of households who are behind owe one or two months of back rent. However, a smaller but not insignificant number of renters have not been able to pay rent for many months and owe much larger amounts. Our analysis of the University of Southern California’s Understanding Coronavirus in America national survey finds that 27 percent are one month behind, 27 percent are two months behind, 10 percent are three months behind, and the remaining 36 percent are more than three months behind.

The average amount owed depends primarily on local housing costs, so it varies significantly across states and metros. Among states, Hawaii has the highest average rent debt per behind household ($5,200), while Arkansas has the lowest ($2,000). At the metro level, San Francisco and Washington DC have the highest average debts ($5,300 and $4,800, respectively), while Detroit has the lowest average debt by far ($2,400), followed by Atlanta ($2,900). 

Our national estimates of rent debt fall somewhere in the middle of existing projections in terms of total debt, and on the lower end in terms of per household amount. In January, Moody’s Analytics projected that 6.3 million renters would owe a total of $33 billion in rent debt by March, at an average of $5,282 per household. Stout Analytics estimated that between two and five million renter households owed between $13 and $24 billion as of January. Both Moody’s and Stout used the Pulse survey to inform their estimates of the number of households behind. Using a very different methodology based on modeling employment losses, income supports, and spending choices at the household level, and not incorporating the Pulse survey data, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia estimated that 1.8 million renter households would owe $11 billion in rent in March, at approximately $6,100 per household. 

With the incipient recovery, the number of renters with debt is declining nationwide, but some states and metros saw increases from March to April.

Nationwide, the share of renters with debt is trending downward from a high of 19 percent in January 2021 to 14 percent at the end of April. Nearly all states and metros are following this general downward trend since their peaks. However, when we look at the most rencent month of data, we see that some communities are seeing declines while others are seeing increases. Between the end of March and the end of April, rates of renters behind rose in 20 states and seven metros.

Among states, Tennessee saw the biggest spike in arrearages (from nine to 20 percent behind), followed by Arkansas (from 14 to 23 percent), and Hawaii (from eight to 16 percent). West Virginia and Mississippi saw the biggest improvements (from 31 to 13 percent behind).

Among metros, Atlanta saw the largest increases (from 11 to 24 percent behind). Riverside saw the greatest decrease (from 22 to eight percent).

The vast majority of those who are behind on rent are low-income households who’ve lost jobs and income during the pandemic.

Today’s rent debt crisis is entirely a consequence of the pandemic’s economic fallout: 68 percent of those who are behind on rent lost employment income at some point during the pandemic. As our other research has shown, low-wage workers, who are disproportionately workers of color, were hardest hit by pandemic job losses and are most likely to suffer from rent debt. Among households with rent debt, 78 percent are low-income (with earnings less than $50,000 per year) and 64 percent are renters of color. The majority (54 percent) are currently unemployed.

Renters have made tremendous sacrifices and tradeoffs to stay current on rent, including foregoing medical care, delaying payment of other bills, eating cheaper (and potentially less healthy) food, and voluntarily moving in with friends and family — increasing risk of Covid-19 exposure while losing their housing stability. One of the most surprising facts in the data is the high share of low-income renters who are paid in full: Among low-income households that lost employment income during the pandemic, 73 percent are not behind on rent. This underscores how paying rent has remained a top priority for all renters throughout the pandemic, despite the moratoria on evictions.

Rent is not the only debt accumulating for renters.

While our analysis focuses on back rent, renters’ pandemic debt crisis extends far beyond their obligations to their landlords. Many renters are borrowing from family and friends or taking on other forms of debt in order to make rent and pay for household expenses. Among households behind on rent, 41 percent borrowed from friends or family to pay rent, compared with just 15 percent of households current on rent. About 30 percent of all renter households, whether behind or current on rent, used a credit card (or some other form of debt) to pay rent. Many are behind on other bills, such as utilities or car payments. A survey of water debt in California found that 1.6 million households owed $1 billion on water bills — $500 on average.

Renters of color have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are more likely to owe back rent, making them more vulnerable to eviction risk.

In the United States, renters are already a more vulnerable population as a whole: they have little housing security, paltry savings, and few legal protections from exorbitant rent increases or eviction (outside of a few states and cities with strong tenant movements). Historic and continuing housing and lending discrimination, as well as systemic inequities in our labor market, have contributed to large racial inequities in homeownership. Atlas data shows that seven in 10 White households own their homes while the majority of Black, Latinx, and multiracial households rent. 

The challenge of unaffordable rents and flat wages add to this underlying housing insecurity among renters. Renters were already in crisis when the pandemic began: about a third of White renters and just under half of Black and Latinx renters were both economically insecure (earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level) and rent burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent). Gender is another important axis: women of color are most likely to be rent burdened, and disproportionately face eviction.

Covid-19 added yet another layer of inequity to these preexisting disparities. Today, 10 percent of White renters are behind on rent, compared to 20 percent of Asian or Pacific Islander renters, 20 percent of Latinx renters, and 22 percent of Black renters.

Eliminating Rent Debt is an Equity Imperative and a Moral, Economic, and Public Health Necessity

Today’s rent debt crisis is a microcosm of the wretched inequality of the pandemic: millions of renter households – most of them people of color – now face the burden of owing back rent due to a public health crisis that had extremely concentrated negative economic impacts on low-wage workers. These unequal consequences are not random, but the predictable result of past policies that left millions of families with no savings to draw upon in the face of an economic shock, as well as the failed early policy response to the pandemic. Although the CARES Act provided important unemployment benefits and cash assistance as well as an eviction moratorium that helped many pandemic-impacted renters, undocumented and mixed-status families were ineligible for assistance and the moratorium ended in July, leaving renters unprotected until the CDC enacted its moratorium in early September. Moreover, absent meaningful financial assistance to pay back rent, the moratoria simply delay eviction. Yet, the federal government provided no rent relief until December, nine months into the pandemic.

The magnitude of rent debt is a crisis in and of itself and the leading indicator of a potential eviction tsunami that would be a humanitarian disaster. Rent debt adds a heavy burden onto families who are already financially insecure and struggling during the pandemic, further limiting their choices and creating additional stress. It’s also contributing to the growth of the racial wealth gap: while renters, predominantly people of color, currently hold $20 billion in debt, homeowners, who are predominantly White, saw a $1.5 trillion increase in their home equity between October 2019 and October 2020 as competition for a constrained supply of homes drove prices up. At a time when racial equity is at the forefront of the policy debate, eliminating rent debt that has unfairly and unequally accrued for people of color should be an urgent priority.

Clearing rent debt is also key to staving off the specter of mass eviction, which would directly harm economically vulnerable families and their communities and have long-term ripple effects throughout our economy. Eviction has significant negative consequences for mental and physical health, educational outcomes, and household finances. Some evicted families and individuals would become homeless, with devastating consequences for long-term health and well-being as well as significant costs for local governments. 

The health impacts of eviction and homelessness are even more severe during a pandemic. Research during the pandemic found that states that allowed evictions to proceed had more Covid infections and deaths than those with eviction moratoria. Although the vaccination campaign is in full swing and Covid cases are low in most states, there are hotspots with high infection rates and the longer-term picture remains uncertain.

Forgiving rent debt is also essential to an equitable and people-centered recovery: one in which those hardest-hit by the pandemic can fully participate and thrive.

For an Equitable and Just Recovery, Policymakers Must Clear Rent Debt and Prevent Eviction

Recognizing the catastrophic impact of mass eviction, policymakers have responded, albeit belatedly, by enacting eviction moratoria and establishing rent relief funds. The federal CDC eviction moratorium scheduled to expire last month was extended through June 30th, and the American Rescue Plan passed in January provided $25.1 billion for rental assistance programs as well as $350 billion in fiscal support for state and local governments, some of which could be allocated toward debt relief. The December 27 coronavirus relief bill also provided $25 billion in funding for rental assistance. 

These are important steps, and more must be done to ensure that all struggling renters emerge from this crisis safely in their homes with no debt. The eviction moratorium is far from airtight: many evictions are still proceeding, and renters need stronger protections. In addition, rent relief programs are not reaching all of those with need; these programs must be structured to meet the scale of the crisis, both to efficiently deliver resources and to ensure that resources are distributed equitably, reaching the low-income renters of color hardest hit by the pandemic who were already housing insecure before Covid-19.

As they design rent relief programs, local and state policymakers should implement policies that adhere to the following equitable, common sense principles: 

  • No renter, regardless of immigration status, should be evicted or burdened with years of debt for rent that they were unable to pay during the pandemic.
  • Rent debt due to the pandemic should be fully forgiven and should not be conditioned on landlords’ acceptance of funds or participation in programs.

  • Financial assistance to landlords should address the fiscal needs of landlords in danger of going out of business due to lost rent, with a particular focus on keeping small community-based landlords and nonprofit affordable housing operators solvent, rather than attempting to achieve full rent replacement for all landlords. California’s program, negotiated with the state’s landlord association, provides an example: landlords receive 80 percent of back rent owed.

  • Local municipalities’ authority to pass stronger eviction and debt protection laws should be preserved.

  • Landlords should continue to fulfill their legal obligations to tenants regardless of whether they receive assistance, including the duty to maintain habitable premises, refrain from harassment and retaliation against tenants, and respecting tenants’ legal rights. 

For more local policy ideas and examples, see https://ourhomesourhealth.org

* The number of renter respondents to the Pulse survey for Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming was insufficient to produce reliable data to include in the dashboard.

Special Preview: Neighborhood Mapping on the Atlas

This webinar offered a special preview of new maps will allow users to understand how selected equity indicators vary across neighborhoods within a city or region and can help inform targeted strategies and investments.

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