The State of Nation’s Housing: Even More Unequal Following COVID-19

The Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) of Harvard University’s 2021 State of the Nation’s Housing report describes the K-shaped economic recovery in which higher-income households used wealth accumulated throughout the pandemic to purchase homes, while others struggled to stay in their homes as incomes dropped precipitously. “For those households with secure employment and good-quality housing, their homes provided a safe haven from the pandemic,” says Chris Herbert, managing director of the Center. “But for millions struggling to cover the rent or mortgage, their housing situations have become increasingly insecure and these disparities are likely to persist even as the economy recovers, with many lower-income households slow to regain their financial footing.” Rental housing highlights from the report include: 

  • Fourteen percent of all renter households were behind on their housing payments in early 2021 
  • States with the largest shares of renters in arrears were primarily in the South. Mississippi was at the top of the list, with 27 percent behind on rent, followed by Delaware, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia;  
  • States with larger shares of renters in arrears have lower-than-average median incomes, as well as higher-than-average shares of Black renter households; 
  • Apartment construction completions far outpaced growth in rental occupancy in professionally managed units; and 
  • Rental units are aging and many are in need of repair. In 2019, 17 million renter households lived in housing built before 1970; much of which is concentrated in the Northeast.