Analysis: America may face a new pandemic of evictions when CDC’s national evictions moratorium expires on July 31, 2021

Our new county-level analysis finds that 6.2 million renting households are still behind on rent and could face eviction next week

Picture of signs on the ground after people gathered outside an apartment complex with the intention to stop the alleged eviction of one of the tenants in Mount Rainier, Md., last year.
Image from our The New York Times Opinion piece on this topic: Signs on the ground after people gathered outside an apartment complex with the intention to stop the alleged eviction of one of the tenants in Mount Rainier, Md., last year. (Credit Leah Millis/Reuters)

When the CDC’s national moratorium on evictions expires on July 31, more than six million families in America could face eviction filings for being behind on rent. This threat is especially pronounced in 250 counties, where at least one in five renters are still behind on rent. These are the findings of our new analysis, which includes estimates of rental arrears for every county in the United States.

We also published a The New York Times Opinion article discussing these findings: How Many People Are at Risk of Losing Their Homes in Your Neighborhood?

For our analysis, we used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey to estimate the likelihood of being behind on rent for every American renting household, along with how much they are likely to owe.

Ever since the early days of COVID-19, we’ve been concerned about ‘vulnerability,’ a term we use to define a community’s ability to weather this pandemic based on a number of structural, socioeconomic, and health-related factors. Housing vulnerability is very much a part of this equation.

Surgo Ventures Interactive map to explore county-level rental arrears estimates across the country.
Surgo Ventures interactive map to explore county-level rental arrears estimates across the country.

Our county-by-county analysis of rental arrears suggests that we might be facing a new wave of eviction filings as a result of what happens on July 31. Tragically, people living in counties that score high on our COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index are most likely to be in arrears, just as they were most likely to suffer COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death. We believe there are sufficient federal and local funds to cover our most vulnerable families; we just need to make sure they are distributed appropriately so that at-risk families have the financial and programmatic support they need to stave off a crisis.

The key findings from our analysis are:

Finding 1: After alarming winter surges, national arrears declined, but now have plateaued at levels similar to the height of unemployment in April 2020.

  • We estimate that 6.2M households are behind on rent, which represents 15% of all renting households in the U.S.
  • The bill is $3,700 per household in arrears on average, totaling $23B nationally.
  • As of July 2021, 250 counties (or 8% of all U.S. counties) are at especially grave risk, with more than 1 in 5 households in these counties facing rental debt.

Finding 2: Renters in the South have been impacted most severely and face the steepest bill, yet counties are in crisis across each region of the United States.

  • In the South, 16% of households face rental arrears with $8.4B total dollars owed as of July 2021 — the most of any U.S. region.
  • The Northeast also has 16% in arrears as of July 2021, driven by severely impacted counties with large rental populations. However, regional debt is lower, at $5.5B, with fewer total renters than other regions.
  • Fewer renters are affected in the West — 14% of households as of July 2021 — though dollars owed per renter is high, resulting in the second-highest total debt owed at $7.0B.
  • The Midwest has a lower overall burden, with a regional average of 13% of renters affected and the lowest total debt, at $3.3B. However, counties with greater arrears than the regional average should still be considered in crisis.

Finding 3: There are large differences in arrears between counties, even within the same state, signaling a need for a hyper-local response.

For example:

  • Compared to a 25% peak in November 2020, rental arrears in South Carolina have improved somewhat, now at 22% — yet all counties within the state do not follow this pattern, signaling the need for a hyper-local, tailored response.
  • In Georgia, as of July 2021, 14% of Columbia County renters are behind on payment, yet the rate is nearly double, at 24%, just next door in Richmond County.
The New York Times Opinion interactive map to explore the average amount owed in rent by county.
The New York Times Opinion interactive map to explore the average amount owed in rent by county.

In addition, we compiled a list of proposed solutions that federal, state, and local community leaders can take to address the looming eviction crisis:

List of actions that federal, state, and local community leaders can take to address the looming eviction crisis, organized by ways to advocate, respond with precision, and investigate further.

For more information, download the full report here and visit our interactive tool at: precisionforcovid.org/rental_arrears.

Read our methodology here.

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Surgo Ventures

Surgo Ventures

We use all the tools available from behavioral science, data science, and artificial intelligence to unlock solutions that will save and improve people’s lives.