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PolicyLink: Rent Debt in America

Providing data on who is behind on rent to inform equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The data

The dashboard relies on calculations and estimates produced by the National Equity Atlas, based on three underlying sources:  Household rent and income data from the 5-year 2019 American Community Survey (ACS); Data on late payment of rent from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey; Distribution of rent arrears estimates derived from USC's Center for Economic and Social Research’s “Understanding Coronavirus in America” panel survey.

The visualization

This dashboard makes rent debt estimates available for the US, 45 states, and 15 metros, with some data points for all counties in the 45 states. The dashboard is linked to an underlying Google sheet which is updated every two weeks with new data for timeliness and accessibility.  

The historical context

Renters were already in crisis when COVID-19 began: Tenants of color have long faced housing and labor market discrimination, and while rents have risen, wages have stagnated, and tenant legal protections are minimal.  All of this contributes to increased housing instability and risk of eviction during the pandemic. 

The current implications

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 inequity of the pandemic: millions of renter households—most of them people of color–now face the burden of owning back rent due to a public health crisis that has already disproportionately burdened them. Clearing rent debt is essential to a just and equitable recovery.

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Data Deep-Dive

Key takeaways to guide analysis

Underlying homeownership disparities.

Atlas data shows that 7 in 10 white families own their homes, but the majority of Black, LatinX, and Native American households rent.

Tracking the rent debt crisis

6 million renter households—14% percent of all renter households—are currently behind on rent. On average, they owe $3,400 in rent.

An equity issue

Among households with rent debt, 78% are low-income; 63% are renters of color. The majority are currently unemployed.