This document describes our methodology used before January 31, 2021 for estimating the number of renter households behind on rent and the total and per household rent debt for selected counties, regions, and states. For the latest methodology, please see here.
Our estimates use the share of households behind on rent from the Census Household Pulse survey and the rent paid by households from the American Community Survey, both broken down by income brackets, to determine the total amount of monthly rent owed by households behind on rent. We then use these monthly figures to estimate total rent debt by assuming that 56 percent are one month behind, 24 percent are two months behind, 15 percent are between three and nine months behind, and 5 percent are 10 months behind (the extent of the pandemic).
We use three data sources:
- Rent data from the 1-year 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) extracted from IPUMS (ipums.org).
- Data on late payment of rent from the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (Week 21 - December 9-21, 2020) for states and the 15 largest metros.
- Distribution of rent arrears estimates derived from two sources: a) the Community Housing Improvement Program’s January 2021 survey of about 40,000 rent-regulated apartments in New York City; and b) the University of Southern California “Understanding Coronavirus in America” panel survey from March through July 2020, analyzed by the Research Institute for Housing America.
The process and data are further described below:
Household Pulse Survey data is filtered to include only renting households paying a non-zero rent in the most recent survey wave. Those households are assigned a rent status based on their response to the survey question: “Is this household currently caught up on rent payments?.” The number of households in rent arrears are calculated by household income category, (pre-specified by the Census in increments ranging from $10,000 to $50,000). PUMS data is also filtered to include the heads of renting households in the specified region paying a non-zero amount of rent, and an average monthly rent (not gross rent) is calculated for each income group defined in the Pulse survey. It is assumed that differences between 2019 reported rents and 2020 actual rents are negligible for households that have not moved in 2020, as those households were likely locked into pre-pandemic leases and/or month-by-month agreements with fixed/stable rents. The Pulse estimates are available for 15 metropolitan regions: when regional data are available, we use the regional estimates of behind households by income category in state totals.
The percent of households behind on rent is then calculated for each income bracket by dividing the number of households reporting being behind on rent in the Pulse survey by the total number of households reporting a rent status (either behind or paid). This percentage is multiplied by the sum of monthly rent owed by households in each income bracket according to PUMS data, to arrive at a total estimate of monthly rent owed by behind households.
The total amount of monthly rent owed by behind households is then calculated by multiplying the average monthly rent for each income category by the number of Pulse households in that income category and summing those values by the Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMAs).
These figures are converted to total rent debt by adjusting based on our estimate that 56 percent are one month behind, 24 percent are two months behind, 15 percent are between three and nine months behind, and 5 percent are 10 months behind (the extent of the pandemic). There is no source of data on the distribution of rent arrears among California’s renters, so we estimated this distribution based on two key sources: 1) the Community Housing Improvement Program’s January 2021 survey of about 40,000 rent-regulated apartments in New York City, which found that the average rent arrears was $6,173 (about 4.5 months behind based on the average monthly rent of $1,400), with 19.4 percent more than two months behind, and 5.6 percent more than 11 months behind (owing more than $15,000); and 2) the University of Southern California (USC) “Understanding Coronavirus in America” panel survey from March through July 2020, analyzed by the Research Institute for Housing America, which found that approximately 60 percent of behind households are one month behind on rent, 25 percent are two months behind, and 15 percent are three months behind. The NYC survey is a robust and recent estimate of arrears, and available data shows that the median rents and incomes are similar between NYCs rent-stabilized renters and California’s renters (NYC’s median rent-stabilized rent in 2018 was $1,260 and California’s median rent in 2019 was $1,614, and NYC’s median rent-stabilized tenant household income was $44,000 in 2016 and California’s median renter income was approximately $47,000 in 2019). The NYC survey did not provide more detailed breakdowns of arrears by month, so we made the following assumptions: the proportion of tenants that are one and two months behind is the same as the proportion found in the USC survey; the 15 percent of tenants that are between three and nine months behind are equally distributed across each of the seven months.
These estimates do not take into account the requirement of the California eviction moratorium passed in August 2020 (AB 3088) that Covid-19-affected tenants must pay 25 percent of rent accrued between September 1, 2020 and January 31, 2021 by January 31, 2021 to be protected from eviction. This incentive likely decreases the amount of arrears.