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Renters Living in Small Buildings Face the Steepest Economic Risks in the Pandemic

Renters in smaller multi-family buildings and single-family homes are faced with larger economic challenges during the pandemic, according to new analysis by researchers at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
May 28, 2020, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Allen J.M. Smith

As noted in an article by Whitney Airgood-Obrycki and Alexander Hermann, tracking the health of renters and the rental market has been challenging during the pandemic, as available data tends to certains types of rental buildings. Data from the National Multifamily Housing Coalition, for instance, skews toward buildings with at least five units. The work of Airgood-Obrycki and Hermann aims to fill some of that gap for a better understanding of the risks facing renters in smaller buildings.

The resulting analysis reports dire risks. "Renters living in single-family homes and smaller multifamily buildings, along with the owners of those properties, are more likely to be negatively affected by the COVID-19 economic downturn," according to Airgood-Obrycki and Hermann.

More specifically, "Over half of renters with at-risk wages due to the pandemic live in single-family and small multifamily rentals with 2–4 units," write Airgood-Obrycki and Hermann, who further estimate that "nearly 20 percent of renters in small multifamily apartments may have difficulty paying full rent if at-risk wages are lost, compared to 12 percent of renters living in larger apartments."

The analysis by Airgood-Obrycki and Hermann reveals a disparity in the common understanding of the effects of the coronavirus, which has tended to concentrate on the perceived public health risks of large residential buildings, like in this article by Liam Dillon for the Los Angeles Times, about the pandemic experience in Park Le Brea, the largest apartment complex in California.  

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Published on Tuesday, May 26, 2020 in Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University
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