The coronavirus will exacerbate the pressure on lower-wage workers who need lower-cost housing, but are unable to move to more affordable markets because their jobs are not mobile. “It almost sounds too obvious to say, but the ability to work from home was the greatest predictor of whether you were able to pay your rent in April,” Popov said.
While there will likely be some decline in rent prices and more households may consolidate for financial viability — for example, moving in with roommates or family during the pandemic — renters will remain burdened until the economy can safely restart.
Legislators are trying to buy tenants more time. “There is going to be significant economic loss as a result of this. Right now it is entirely being borne by the people who can least bear it, people at the bottom of the economic ladder,” said Gianaris, who proposed suspending and forgiving rent for 90 days. “I am trying to set up some ground rules, in the absence of a massive infusion of aid, to spread that loss up the ladder as far as we can take it … to push the burden up the chain to the banks and the big real estate companies and insurance companies who can handle it and are the entities who benefit most from federal assistance — either because they’re better at manipulating the system or the choices our federal government makes is geared towards helping those who need it the least.”
The CARES Act paused evictions in certain properties for 120 days for nonpayment (local governments enacted their own moratoriums), but those rental bills will eventually come due. Advocates are calling for tenant rent strikes around the country. “We’re setting ourselves up for a housing catastrophe which will lead to homelessness, evictions, foreclosures, and I am trying to put some structure around it and set some ground rules so that doesn’t happen so the recovery will be smoother,” said Gianaris. “There’s a significant effort to push the federal government in its next stimulus to provide a very significant amount of housing assistance.”
Anticipating the need for further relief, the apartment industry is asking Congress to pass a $100 billion emergency rental assistance fund. Yet even this fund, which would be doled out in two 60-day chunks as proposed now, would rapidly be exhausted. Millions of people are likely to remain unemployed for much longer.