The Center for Public Integrity

December 9, 2020

Sarah Kleiner

In November, almost a third of Black renters weren’t able to keep up with rent payments, compared to 16% of Hispanic and Asian renters and 13% of White renters, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Pulse survey, which measures financial welfare in the COVID pandemic.

Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that the pandemic widened racial disparities. Black and brown households were already proportionately more cost-burdened by rental payments before COVID-19 struck last winter. By late September, 23% of Black, 20% of Hispanic and 19% of Asian renters were behind on their rents, compared to the 10% share of White renters.

The debt these renters owe to landlords could linger for years, damage debtors’ credit reports and make it more difficult to rent clean, safe housing in the future.

If the eviction moratorium is extended without rental assistance, a key problem will remain, said Anne Kat Alexander, a project leader with Princeton University’s Eviction Lab.

“If you miss a month’s rent or even miss half a month’s rent, housing is so unaffordable that that couple hundred dollars might be impossible for a tenant to make up,” Alexander said.

Darity, the economist from Duke, said the wealth gap is widening, particularly for non-White residents, because the United States has never prioritized the wellbeing of all Americans. Lawmakers have never guaranteed employment, health insurance and housing, nor have they approved of reparations for descendents of slaves.

“To the extent that we’ve never made a social commitment [to basic needs],” Darity said, “we’re going to experience this kind of inequality that’s associated with significant deprivation for a large part of our population.