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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on low-income tenants’ housing security in Washington state

Published on July 26, 2021

A view of the front of the Evans School of Public Policy building, on UW campus.
Evans School of Public Policy Image Credit: The Daily UW

Originally written by Matthew Fowle, Ph.D Candidate and Rachel Fyall, Associate Professor at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.

The COVID-19 pandemic and related economic recession have had a substantial negative impact on low-income tenants’ housing security. A record number of households have been unable to pay their rent on-time. To stem the threat of eviction for non-payment of rent, governments have implemented eviction moratoria. This mixed methods study, in partnership with the Tenants Union of Washington State, draws on semi-structured interviews (n=25) and a survey (n=410) with low-income tenants to examine the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic and eviction moratoria have impacted housing security in Washington State.

The study finds that the pandemic has led to downward residential mobility, increased rental debt, and poorer housing quality for low-income households. The pandemic has also exacerbated the negative impact of housing insecurity on health as tenants are spending more time in substandard housing that is harmful to their physical and mental health. Overall, households of color have been disproportionately affected by this worsening housing security, in particular Black and Latinx tenants. The eviction moratorium has likely been successful in preventing a surge in formal evictions during the pandemic. However, methods of informal evictions and forced moves, such as landlords changing door locks and refusing to renew leases, have significantly increased.

Read an excerpt of the report here.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic recession haveled to extraordinary job losses and financial distress for millions of households in the United States (U.S.). More than four-in-ten (44%) U.S. households have had at least one adult who experienced a job or wage loss since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020 (Horowitz, Brown & Minkin, 2021). For lower-income households, job and income loss rates are even higher and pose serious consequences for housing security. Approximately one-third of lower-income households had difficulty paying their rent or mortgage in August 2020, compared to only 11% of middle-income households and 3% of upper-income households (Horowitz, Brown & Minkin, 2021). These difficulties in meeting rent or mortgage payments have put millions of households, especially lower-income households and households of color who are disproportionately likely to be renters, at risk of housing insecurity. Low-income renters of color must also cope with housing discrimination, which reduces their ability to obtain and maintain safe, stable, and affordable housing in which to shelter-in-place.Housing insecurity is associated with negative health outcomes, such as poor physical and mental health. These health consequences may compound with income disparities in the risks of COVID-19 transmission, hospitalization, and death (Abedi et al., 2020). Evictions, in addition to other forms of housing insecurity such as overcrowding and substandard living conditions, decrease households’ ability to safely practice social distancing and to self-quarantine (Benfer et al., 2020). In a study of all U.S. counties, Ahmad et al. (2020) find that with each 5% increase in the proportion of households with poor housing conditions, the risk of contracting COVID-19 increases by 42%,when controlling for various county characteristics. Recent projections also suggest that evictions lead to significant increases in COVID-19 infections (Nande et al., 2021).

Continue reading at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.

Originally written by Matthew Fowle and Rachel Fyall for the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.
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