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Tracking the COVID-19 Eviction Crisis

Advocates have sounded alarms since the pandemic's outset about the potential for unprecedented waves of evictions as Americans deal with the economic consequences of the pandemic, but authoritative real-time data on the rental market is lacking.
October 29, 2020, 10am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Allen J.M. Smith

Jenny Schuetz provides insight on how to scientifically and accurately predict the economic risk facing the U.S. rental market as the pandemic surpasses the seven month mark. Many households are "running on fumes," according to Schuetz, but one looming crisis, the threat of millions of evictions, has stayed in the background. Questions like "How many renters are in financial trouble?" and "How many will face eviction when current protections end?" are hard to answer, however, because there isn't a lot of real-time data for provide insight.

Policymakers and the public receive high-frequency updates on labor markets, including weekly unemployment insurance claims and monthly jobs numbers. But federal statistical agencies don’t publish real-time data on housing distress, especially for renters.

One resource of tremendous value during this time, according to Schuetz, has been the Household Pulse Survey, launched this year by the U.S. Census Bureau. New research is helping shed light on the usefulness of the data collected by the Household Pulse Survey.

"A new paper from Jeff Larrimore and Erin Troland sheds light on how responses from the Household Pulse Survey can be used to forecast how many households will miss rent payments—and a caution on how not to use the data," explains Schuetz. The key finding: comparing responses over time yields more accurate probabilities for rent payments.

Schuetz provides a lot more detail about the study's methodology, also comparing a few other studies that also attempt to wring actionable data from the survey, in an effort to gain a stronger understanding of the risk facing the U.S. rental market.

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Published on Monday, October 26, 2020 in Brookings
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