skip to main content

Title: Feedback dynamics of the low‐income rental housing market: exploring policy responses to COVID‐19

The economic impact of COVID‐19 threatened mass housing insecurity undermining the health and financial recovery from the pandemic. Unprecedented federal policy responses halted court‐ordered evictions and injected billions of dollars in rental assistance, but questions remain whether housing interventions adequately accounted for dynamics that drive landlord‐tenant interactions, including accumulations of rental and mortgage arrears, rental unit availability, and low‐income housing options. A system dynamics model probes complex feedback dynamics driving tenant and landlord decision‐making in the low‐income rental housing market pre‐ and postpandemic protections. Feedback loops highlight trade‐offs considered by low‐income tenants and landlords in the context of scarcity and uncertainty. Simulations suggest the eviction moratorium and federal emergency rental assistance prevented a tidal wave of evictions, but rental arrears, overcrowding, and homelessness remain elevated. Failure to address underlying financial hardship and limited affordable housing undermines COVID recovery. © 2023 The Authors.System Dynamics Reviewpublished by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of System Dynamics Society.

more » « less
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
System Dynamics Review
Medium: X Size: p. 371-403
p. 371-403
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. This study illuminates an understudied pathway through which disadvantage is reproduced in the rental housing market: the housing search, application, and tenant screening process. Using in-depth interviews with 25 housing-seekers with criminal conviction records, past evictions, and damaged credit histories, this article examines the direct role of the rental housing search and application process in reproducing economic precarity and social disadvantage among renters with discrediting background records, beyond delimiting their housing options. Its findings suggest that navigating the housing search from a position of acute market disadvantage comes with significant costs for this population, including the financial burden of repeated application fees and the psychological strains associated with the specter of indefinite housing insecurity. The findings also demonstrate how the housing search process may undermine the willingness of stigmatized renters to contest exploitative or unlawful rental practices by reinforcing awareness of their degraded status in the rental market.

    more » « less
  2. Structural racism and individual discrimination contribute to racial inequalities in poor housing conditions in the United States. Less is known about whether and how structural racism and individual discrimination shape a parallel, but distinct, process that is also consequential for family wellbeing: experiencing housing unit maintenance delays. Maintenance delays transform acute problems into chronic stressors and increase exposure to physical hazards over time. Using the 2013 American Housing Survey, I examine racial/ethnic disparities in maintenance delays across non-Hispanic White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian/Alaska Native renters. Given that 2.3 million low-income households rent using Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs), a federal housing assistance program with requirements around repair timing, I also examine how renting with a voucher shapes maintenance delays. There are three principal findings. First, White renters are more likely to report timely repairs than either Black or Hispanic renters. Second, for Black renters, both structural racism experienced in rental markets and individual discrimination drive this disparity, whereas Hispanic renters’ diverging maintenance experiences are largely explained by pathways impacted by structural racism. Third, renting with an HCV is not associated with repair timeliness for any racial/ethnic group. Taken together, the findings suggest that racial/ethnic disparities in substandard housing emerge not only through unequal exposure to housing quality problems but also through unequal responses to these issues.

    more » « less
  3. Low-income families often live in low-upward-mobility neighborhoods. We study why by using a randomized trial with housing voucher recipients that provided information, financial support, and customized search assistance to move to high-opportunity neighborhoods. The treatment increased the fraction moving to high-upward-mobility areas from 15 to 53 percent. A second trial reveals this treatment effect is driven primarily by customized search assistance. Qualitative interviews show that the intervention relaxed bandwidth constraints and addressed family-specific needs. Our findings imply many low-income families do not have strong preferences to stay in low-opportunity areas and that barriers in housing search significantly increase residential segregation by income. 
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of natural hazards such as hurricanes. With a severe shortage of affordable housing in the United States, renters may be uniquely vulnerable to disaster‐related housing disruptions due to increased hazard exposure, physical vulnerability of structures, and socioeconomic disadvantage. In this work, we construct a panel dataset consisting of housing, socioeconomic, and hurricane disaster data from counties in 19 states across the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States from 2009 to 2018 to investigate how the frequency and intensity of a hurricane correspond to changes in median rent and housing affordability (the interaction between rent prices and income) over time. Using a two‐stage least square random‐effects regression model, we find that more intense prior‐year hurricanes correspond to increases in median rents via declines in housing availability. The relationship between hurricanes and rent affordability is more complex, though the occurrence of a hurricane in a given year or the previous year reduces affordable rental housing, especially for counties with higher percentages of renters and people of color. Our results highlight the multiple challenges that renters are likely to face following a hurricane, and we emphasize that disaster recovery in short‐ and medium‐term should focus on providing safe, stable, and affordable rental housing assistance.

    more » « less
  5. Rental housing was historically a minimal feature of urban informality. Now it is surging amid municipal attempts to “upgrade” informal settlements in São Paulo, Brazil. Drawing upon a mixed-methodological study of two favelas on São Paulo’s east side, we analyze how cycles of upgrading shape informal rental housing at the urban, community, block, and parcel levels, providing detailed comparative data for 2010–2020. Our findings suggest that rental housing redevelopment can increase precarity in urban living, but is an important source of low-income housing in already built-up and “consolidated” settlements where access is declining. Our study emphasizes the need for scholars, policy makers, and planners to further explore the praxis of informal renting and rental housing, which can be effective conduits for channeling public investments across consolidated informal settlements and into individual dwellings.

    more » « less