How COVID-19 Is Impacting Rental Housing

New reports show the influence of the pandemic on various apartment classes and metros across the country.

Sep 11, 2020
By Holly Dutton

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to an economic downturn and millions of jobs losses over the last six months. While some real estate sectors took hard hits, like retail and hospitality, multifamily has proved to be resilient. But as the health crisis winds on and government relief measures stall in Congress, some pockets of the rental housing market could experience significant distress.


READ ALSO: Trump Administration Orders Nationwide Eviction Ban


A just-released study from Middleburg Communities, a multifamily investment and development firm, found that average asking rent across all apartment classes in the U.S. fell by just $1 from the first quarter of 2020 to the second quarter, dropping from $1,368 to $1,367. Absorption was also positive, with the number of apartment renters increasing by 60,000 from Q1 to Q2, according to data from CoStar.

However, apartments at the high end of the market have struggled during the pandemic, something researchers predicted would happen back in April. According to the Middleburg report, average rents in Class A apartment fell much more than Class B or Class C apartments in the second quarter of this year. In some metros—including Charlotte, Nashville and New York—the declines were even steeper in the urban core areas. The difference may be due at least in part to urban renters leaving the city and heading to the suburbs.

The Middleburg report cautioned that the lack of new government legislation to support unemployed workers “certainly raises concerns,” and could potentially lead to substantial rent declines if no new stimulus is passed in the fall. However, even in the event of no new stimulus, the report authors pointed to employment and GDP forecasts from Oxford Economics and others who have predicted that a steep decline in rents would be followed by a steep increase.

At-risk renters

While data from the National Multifamily Housing Council’s has shown that rent payment collection has fared well over throughout the pandemic, the data does not account for a large portion of the multifamily market that is not professionally managed and that tends to have lower-income renters that are more likely to be impacted financially due to the pandemic.

New research from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University shows that 12.1 million renter households in the U.S. have residents with at least some at-risk wages. The loss of wages in at-risk industries would push the share of renters with costs burdens to well above 50 percent, according to JCHS.

The uncertainty surrounding employment underscores the need for more rental assistance, something the multifamily industry as well as housing advocates have urged Congress to pass. According to estimates from JCHS, renters across the country could need anywhere from $3.5 billion to $7.5 billion in assistance each month to fill the gap between lost incomes and rents.

“This is just addressing the cost of the pandemic and would not address people who were cost burdened before the pandemic, so it’s still not solving the underlying affordability crisis,” said Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, a research associate at JCHS.

Areas in the U.S. that are the most vulnerable are metros in the South and West, including Las Vegas and Orlando, which have the highest share of renters with at-risk jobs and existing severe cost burdens. Many rental households in the U.S. are vulnerable due to working jobs requiring close proximity to other people and multi-generational and overcrowded living conditions.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey taken in mid-July found that many renters reported missing a rent payment or worried about next month’s payment, while 1 in 5 households reported not paying July rent on time. Black and Hispanic households were more likely to report late or deferred payments.

Airgood-Obrycki predicted that rental markets could see cooling demand as households consolidate, renters move in with roommates and young people move in with their parents. Additionally, some renters may leave the market to become homeowners. Going into the pandemic, there was momentum in the home-buying market, and that could continue.

She also predicted there will likely be increased demand for a limited supply of low-rent units, while at the top of the market, landlords will offer concessions for newer units.

Rent Payment Struggles Continue


More than six months into the coronavirus pandemic, multifamily trade groups and advocates are worried about the cascading effects of falling rent payments.

While some reports have found that collections haven’t dropped as drastically as many had feared, numbers are still down from the same time last year. And with federal rent relief measures stalled in Congress, the expiration of additional unemployment benefits and continued job losses across the country, industry leaders fear the worst is yet to come.


READ ALSO: How COVID-19 is Impacting Rental Housing


Since April, the National Multifamily Housing Council has released a report on rent collections that reflects more than 13.4 million professionally managed units. NMHC’s Rent Payment Tracker has consistently updated its numbers from industry data providers, offering a helpful look at where things stand. As of Sept. 20, 90.1 percent of renters had paid September rent, according to NMHC. The number is a 1.7 percentage point drop from the same time last year.

However, and as NMHC has itself pointed out, the tool leaves out a wide swath of the multifamily market. According to a July survey of small landlords in the U.S. by The Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, and the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, 57 percent of respondents said their rent collections are down from the first quarter, with 30 percent of respondents saying they are down more than 25 percent.

A widespread issue

Other industry surveys and reports have helped shine light on where rent collections stand. A report released in mid-September by the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Research Institute for Housing America (RIHA) found that nearly 11 million households fell behind on their rent or mortgage payments during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic. While government stimulus programs and employees getting back to work has led to an increase in the number of payments, report authors said Congressional gridlock and increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases pose a “real risk” to the ability of renters to make upcoming payments.

Apartment List, a national rental listing platform, reported earlier this month that in the first week of September, 32 percent of renters had not paid their full rent payment. The study also found that 31 percent of renters started September owing back rent for previous months. Of those who had fallen behind on payment, many stacked up credit card debt, sold off assets, or dipped into retirement savings to stay afloat.

“The high overall rates indicate that even those who have managed to stay current on rent may not be in great financial health,” Apartment List wrote in its report.

“We need solutions now. We can no longer wait for the federal government to bail us out,” said CHIP Executive Director Jay Martin.

In the New York City metro area, the Community Housing Improvement Program, a group representing 4,000 landlords of rent-stabilized properties, found that more than 19 percent of residential tenants had paid no rent in September and the residential vacancy rate reached 12.5 percent, according to a survey of its members. The responses received represented at least 80,000 units in New York City.

CHIP Executive Director Jay Martin called on city and state leaders to take measures to help bail out the “affordable housing ecosystem” for both renters and landlords.

“We need solutions now. We can no longer wait for the federal government to bail us out,” Martin said in prepared remarks Sept. 17.

Reports from the Joint Center for Housing Studies have also identified metros around the country with the most vulnerable populations of “at-risk” renters.

Where relief measures stand

While industry trade groups and housing advocates agree that the problem can only be solved by a major injection of capital at the federal level, it hasn’t stopped some cities and local partnerships from launching their own relief funds.

Rental assistance programs in New York, Louisiana and Los Angeles were overwhelmed with demand soon after launching. In Houston, which has a renter population of nearly 2 million according to 2017 Census data, a $15 million relief fund created by the city in mid-May was drained just 90 minutes after it opened to applicants.

One recent effort to help those in need is Project Parachute, a coalition of more than 40 multifamily owners, nonprofits and city agencies in the New York City area that joined forces to help renters stay in their homes. The project launched in May with an initial $4 million investment from property owners and recently received an additional $3 million from several philanthropic donors, according to The Real Deal.

As the pandemic grinds into the fall season, the expiration date of the federal eviction moratorium enacted earlier this month draws closer and the widespread need for relief measures becomes more clear, industry groups and advocates continue to call on a deadlocked Congress to pass legislation.

“Without federal assistance, 30 to 40 million people will be at risk of losing their homes when the federal eviction moratorium ends on December 31,” the National Low-Income Housing Coalition said in a memo to its members Sept. 21. “The only way to protect these renters is for Congress and the White House to return to the negotiating table and work out a deal now.”

Don’t Forget, Wednesday, August 12 is Apartment Onsite Teams Day


Author: Bob Pinnegar, President & CEO/NATIONAL APARTMENT ASSOCIATION


In this edition of NAAEI’s Apartment Jobs Snapshot, job openings in the apartment industry comprised nearly 44.0 percent of positions available in the real estate sector, well above the 5-year average of 31.5 percent. Property manager positions were the most sought after, as they play a critical role in ensuring that all COVID-19 safety precautions are in effect. Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Seattle ranked highest for apartment job demand. Leasing momentum for student housing is increasing as most universities will open to on-campus classes, resulting in high demand for leasing consultants.

To thank our onsite teams, we are designating Wednesday, August 12 as Apartment Onsite Teams Day. This idea is spearheaded by Marcia Bollinger, Senior Vice President, CoStar; Kirk Downey, Chairman, National Suppliers Council; and Mike Mini, President, Affiliate Executives Council. In this vein, we need your help in recognizing your local onsite teams to give them the attention they deserve. Please contact your local affiliate and/or local product/service council to see how you can help. They have been equipped with ideas and suggestions to not only celebrate the staff onsite but spread the word on social media using the hashtag #APTeamsDay and within their cities and towns.

We hope you will join us in promoting all the amazing work of our industry’s onsite teams. Their dedication and commitment have been amazing and they deserve a thanks from all of us.

2020 Q2 Apartment Jobs Snapshot


Despite the uncertainty and economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, apartment hiring stood resilient during Q2 2020.


In this edition of NAAEI’s Apartment Jobs Snapshot, job openings in the apartment industry comprised nearly 44.0 percent of positions available in the real estate sector, well above the 5-year average of 31.5 percent. Property manager positions were the most sought after, as they play a critical role in ensuring that all COVID-19 safety precautions are in effect. Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Seattle ranked highest for apartment job demand. Leasing momentum for student housing is increasing as most universities will open to on-campus classes, resulting in high demand for leasing consultants.



Maintenance Supervisor in Round Rock, TX for CPM Inc.

Continental Properties is a national real estate development and property management company headquartered in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Founded in 1979 and still privately held, continental has grown from a small company to a major presence in the real estate and apartment management industry. With each project, Continental works as a responsible business partner and community leader. We operate Springs® Apartments, our national award-winning apartment brand with a fierce commitment to customer service. The Springs offers features and amenities distinguishing us from the competition, promoting customer satisfaction and retention, and challenging the status quo in the apartment industry. The development and management of our retail projects and apartment communities is backed by Continental’s hallmarks: ethical business practices, expert industry knowledge, financial strength and an uncompromising attention to detail. Continental Properties’ team of exceptional people, its financial resources, critical thinking and unrivaled industry insight all play a role in creating real estate developments that deliver optimum benefit to our tenants and attractive returns to investors and enhance the communities we serve.

Maintenance Supervisor in Savage, MN for CPM Inc.

Continental Properties is a national real estate development and property management company headquartered in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Founded in 1979 and still privately held, continental has grown from a small company to a major presence in the real estate and apartment management industry. With each project, Continental works as a responsible business partner and community leader. We operate Springs® Apartments, our national award-winning apartment brand with a fierce commitment to customer service. The Springs offers features and amenities distinguishing us from the competition, promoting customer satisfaction and retention, and challenging the status quo in the apartment industry. The development and management of our retail projects and apartment communities is backed by Continental’s hallmarks: ethical business practices, expert industry knowledge, financial strength and an uncompromising attention to detail. Continental Properties’ team of exceptional people, its financial resources, critical thinking and unrivaled industry insight all play a role in creating real estate developments that deliver optimum benefit to our tenants and attractive returns to investors and enhance the communities we serve.

Community Manager in Grand Rapids, MI for CPM Inc.

Continental Properties is a national real estate development and property management company headquartered in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Founded in 1979 and still privately held, continental has grown from a small company to a major presence in the real estate and apartment management industry. With each project, Continental works as a responsible business partner and community leader. We operate Springs® Apartments, our national award-winning apartment brand with a fierce commitment to customer service. The Springs offers features and amenities distinguishing us from the competition, promoting customer satisfaction and retention, and challenging the status quo in the apartment industry. The development and management of our retail projects and apartment communities is backed by Continental’s hallmarks: ethical business practices, expert industry knowledge, financial strength and an uncompromising attention to detail. Continental Properties’ team of exceptional people, its financial resources, critical thinking and unrivaled industry insight all play a role in creating real estate developments that deliver optimum benefit to our tenants and attractive returns to investors and enhance the communities we serve.

Maintenance Technician in Ft. Myers, FL for CPM Inc.

Continental Properties is a national real estate development and property management company headquartered in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Founded in 1979 and still privately held, continental has grown from a small company to a major presence in the real estate and apartment management industry. With each project, Continental works as a responsible business partner and community leader. We operate Springs® Apartments, our national award-winning apartment brand with a fierce commitment to customer service. The Springs offers features and amenities distinguishing us from the competition, promoting customer satisfaction and retention, and challenging the status quo in the apartment industry. The development and management of our retail projects and apartment communities is backed by Continental’s hallmarks: ethical business practices, expert industry knowledge, financial strength and an uncompromising attention to detail. Continental Properties’ team of exceptional people, its financial resources, critical thinking and unrivaled industry insight all play a role in creating real estate developments that deliver optimum benefit to our tenants and attractive returns to investors and enhance the communities we serve.

Community Manager in Apple Valley, MN for CPM, Inc.

Continental Properties is a national real estate development and property management company headquartered in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Founded in 1979 and still privately held, continental has grown from a small company to a major presence in the real estate and apartment management industry. With each project, Continental works as a responsible business partner and community leader. We operate Springs® Apartments, our national award-winning apartment brand with a fierce commitment to customer service. The Springs offers features and amenities distinguishing us from the competition, promoting customer satisfaction and retention, and challenging the status quo in the apartment industry. The development and management of our retail projects and apartment communities is backed by Continental’s hallmarks: ethical business practices, expert industry knowledge, financial strength and an uncompromising attention to detail. Continental Properties’ team of exceptional people, its financial resources, critical thinking and unrivaled industry insight all play a role in creating real estate developments that deliver optimum benefit to our tenants and attractive returns to investors and enhance the communities we serve.

Community Manager in South Elgin, IL for CPM, Inc.

Continental Properties is a national real estate development and property management company headquartered in suburban Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Founded in 1979 and still privately held, continental has grown from a small company to a major presence in the real estate and apartment management industry. With each project, Continental works as a responsible business partner and community leader. We operate Springs® Apartments, our national award-winning apartment brand with a fierce commitment to customer service. The Springs offers features and amenities distinguishing us from the competition, promoting customer satisfaction and retention, and challenging the status quo in the apartment industry. The development and management of our retail projects and apartment communities is backed by Continental’s hallmarks: ethical business practices, expert industry knowledge, financial strength and an uncompromising attention to detail. Continental Properties’ team of exceptional people, its financial resources, critical thinking and unrivaled industry insight all play a role in creating real estate developments that deliver optimum benefit to our tenants and attractive returns to investors and enhance the communities we serve.