A new housing crisis for Massachusetts?
Renters, young, part-time workers among hardest hit
FACED WITH COMPOUNDING economic challenges, many renters in Massachusetts are struggling to keep up with monthly rent payments, raising the specter of a spike in evictions when the moratorium expires in August. Between April and June, 29 percent of those surveyed in a recent poll were unable to pay at least part of their rent for the period. Most (64 percent) who have missed rental payments have discussed the issue with their landlords, though just 35 percent of those who have fallen behind say their rental terms have been modified.
These are some of the key findings from a new poll of 1,531 Massachusetts residents by The MassINC Polling Group. The survey was conducted online May 20-25, 2020, and was sponsored by The Boston Foundation, Preservation of Affordable Housing, The Community Builders, Trinity Financial, Beacon Communities & WinnCompanies.
If the economic crisis continues, rental payments are likely to slide further, with just 57 percent saying they expect to be able to continue to pay their rent for another three to four months. This sets up the possibility of a major eviction crisis later this summer, as unpaid bills pile up. Among those who have missed payments, just 21 percent say it is “very likely” they will be able to catch up by August.
Renters have experienced a disproportionate share of the economic hardships in the current economic crisis. In terms of job losses, 26 percent of renters are either unemployed or furloughed, compared to 13 percent of homeowners. Renters who are employed are more likely to be hourly and part-time workers, two groups that have borne the brunt of the economic impacts of coronavirus since the beginning.
Housing challenges are shaped by a host of related economic factors brought about by the coronavirus crisis, including job and wage losses and food insecurity. Those most affected by the combination of issues include young people, people of color, those with lower incomes and less education, and workers in part-time or hourly jobs. According to our polling, this pattern appeared in the very first days of stay-at-home advisories when part-time and hourly workers suffered immediate economic losses. The first surveys we took in March and early April found economic shocks bringing cascading job and wage losses to lower income residents while those with more income and education shifted to remote work with less economic disruption.
The disparities are just as strong today, with 35 percent of those under age 30 and 30 percent of part-time workers having missed a housing payment – both among the highest rates of any demographic group in the survey. Adding to their challenges, the same demographic groups struggling with jobs, wages, and housing payments also report food insecurity.
The shape of the economic crisis is a reflection of the public health crisis.The pandemic has spread far more widely among the same groups suffering economic damage. Among those dealing with the highest levels of economic distress, 30 percent have someone in their household with symptoms and 22 percent have experienced them personally. On the other end of the spectrum, just 4 percent in the least economic distress say they have had the symptoms.
To address these related challenges, residents support a number of policies that would help residents stay in their homes through the coronavirus crisis. For example, 75 percent support extending the eviction moratorium through December, and 84 percent support the idea of providing temporary support to renters who have lost jobs or wages during the crisis.
They also support requiring lenders to modify mortgage terms for homeowners who have taken a financial hit (83 percent). Only about half (47 percent) of homeowners who have missed payments so far say their mortgage terms have been modified by the bank. With more homeowners expecting to miss payments, 31 percent of those who have missed payments so far say the bank insisted on full payment rather than working to find an arrangement.
With the end of the eviction and foreclosure moratorium approaching, the prospect of a new housing crisis in Massachusetts, concentrated in economically distressed areas and demographic groups, is very real.
Download the topline results (PDF)