Signs That COVID Sustains Historic Discrimination

US ten and twenty dollar bils fanned out on cloth
Rent Money photo by Derek Bradley is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
COVID means more tenants are not paying rent. Small landlords are feeling the pinch.

Elijah de la Campa has done some interesting research about rental arrears among small landlords during COVID. He used racial characteristics of neighbourhoods to make comparisons about the extent of rental arrears and strategies the landlords used to manage the arrears.

De la Campa is a senior research associate in Economics and Urban Analytics at the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. He interviewed landlords in two cities in New York state: Albany and Rochester. The landlords owned no more than three buildings. The interviews took place in June and October 2020.

He found that all landlords were experiencing higher levels of arrears in 2020 than in the same period during 2019. Landlords with housing in predominately white neighbourhoods reported an 80% increase in arrears in June 2020 compared to June 2019. By October, 2020, the difference was less, just 30% higher than in October, 2019. But it was still an increase.

Landlords with housing in predominantly black neighbourhoods reported a 72% increase in June 2020 compared to 2019. By October, the difference had risen to a 101% increase over the same month of the previous year.

De la Campa found that there were differences in the way that arrears were managed between the predominantly white and predominantly black neighbourhoods. In white dominant areas, 22% of landlords had reduced rents for their tenants.

In black dominated areas, less than 1% of landlords had taken this step. With respect to evictions, 12% of landlords had taken steps to evict tenants in black dominant neighbourhoods. In white dominated neighbourhoods, 6% of landlords had done so.

De la Campa’s findings indicate that COVID has contributed to a high level of financial stress amongst small landlords, which is directly linked to the housing and financial stress of their tenants. At this scale, his findings certainly suggest that an arrears bailout would contribute to financial and housing stability for both the landlords and the tenants.

The findings will be of interest to advocates and policy makers and decision makers who are focused on building a COVID recovery strategy that helps people who are most vulnerable. The research method will also be interesting for people studying systemic discrimination. Read more about de la Campa’s work at Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies: The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Landlords in Albany and Rochester, New York

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