Tenants face particular challenges in the face of disasters, and those challenges have been amplified in the current pandemic. Signed into law on March 27, 2020, the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security” (CARES) Act placed a 120-day moratorium on evictions in federally financed multifamily rental properties as well as fees and penalties related to non-payment of rent in an attempt to at least partially ameliorate a potential national housing crisis. In addition, the Act provided some relief to property owners through forbearance provisions on federally-backed mortgages. The Act, along with a patchwork of similar state statutes, created temporary housing stability for renters and provided local governments with a window of time, a window that has ended in many jurisdictions. A direct federal intervention of this scope into local housing policies was necessary given the expectation that individuals isolate at home to protect community health and safety, but also unprecedented, leaving local governments with little direction regarding how to proceed as the moratorium and forbearance programs began to end. Renters and local housing markets are already feeling the strain, and the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on rental housing stability remains unknown. This Grant for Rapid Response Research (RAPID) study investigates how the unique characteristics of the US housing system, and in particular landlord decision-making within that system, are contributing to rental housing instability during the COVID-19 pandemic. In typical natural disasters, the impact on housing stems from physical damage which creates an immediate negative shock to the housing supply. The pandemic provides a singular opportunity to examine the housing impacts of a disaster that affects demand rather than supply and to parse out the role of landlord decision-making within that context. This study will collect perishable highly ephemeral data from landlords during a particularly uncertain period: COVID-related threats to public health and safety and the corresponding policy interventions are constantly evolving; the economic recession is deepening; and eviction moratoria and expanded unemployment benefits are coming to an end. The findings will help illuminate how landlord decision-making is shaping rental housing stability during the current pandemic while furthering the scholarly understanding of the role of landlords in disaster-related housing stability and recovery more generally. By evaluating the relationship between landlord characteristics and decisions and housing stability outcomes, the study findings will assist local government officials to evaluate existing disaster policy responses and will provide important insights to inform the development new and innovative rental housing stability strategies in the aftermath of disasters.

This study uses a mixed-methods approach to investigate the question: What factors are influencing the decision making of residential rental property owners during the COVID-19 pandemic? The research will take place in three mid-sized US cities: Lexington, KY; Minneapolis, MN; and Cleveland, OH. These cites, though similar in size, have varied housing stocks, socioeconomic characteristics, and political orientations. The study focuses on landlords, key players in the housing market and therefore in housing stability and post-disaster housing recovery, rather than tenants, and in doing so addresses a significant gap in the disaster and housing literature. Data collection tasks will include (1) an online survey of landlords and property managers identified through local residential rental registries to identify landlord characteristics and any divergence in their responses based on those characteristics; (2) follow up interviews with select willing landlords and property managers to investigate in greater depth their perceptions of COVID-related challenges and the decisions they are making in response to those challenges; and (3) interviews with local planners, public officials, landlord association representatives, and other policy stakeholders to collect their understanding of rental housing problems in the city and local landlord responses to those problems. The research team anticipates that investigating the decisions that landlords are making during and after the COVID-19 crisis will elucidate how those decisions contribute to rental housing stability during and after natural disasters. Further, the analysis will assist disaster scholars in developing new risk models and community resiliency indicators that will be useful in response to future economic shocks and disasters.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Iowa State University
United States
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