Stimulus checks and expanded unemployment support allowed some tenants to keep up with their rent payments, but a new analysis found that approximately 10 million people — 18 percent of renters in the United States — were in arrears at the beginning of January.

The analysis by Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, and Jim Parrott, a fellow at the Urban Institute, found that the average past-due renter is nearly four months behind and owes $5,600, including late fees and unpaid utilities.

The eviction moratorium allows those tenants to stay in their homes but does not address the issue of unpaid rent. The pandemic and economic shutdown have fallen disproportionately heavily on low-income households and people of color. The crisis of rent debt is no exception.

Housing economists at Apartment List, an online rental housing platform, estimate that 28 percent of renters began 2021 with rent debt lingering from the pandemic in 2020, according to a recent report. The report found that 53 percent of Black renters have unpaid housing bills, compared with 38 percent of Hispanic renters, 27 percent of Asian renters and 21 percent of White renters.

The percentage of tenants with rent debt is highest (38 percent) among households with incomes of less than $25,000 per year, compared with just 17 percent among renter households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more.

Lingering rent debt could lead to future evictions. In addition, Apartment List’s researchers found that renters with unpaid bills are more likely to borrow money from friends or relatives, take on additional credit card debt or withdraw money from short- and long-term savings accounts.

Though rent relief is part of the proposed next stimulus package, state and local services are available for struggling renters. In addition, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) and the Housing Partnership Network recently announced a joint program called Renter Advantage.

The collaboration, funded by a $4.4 million grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation, is meant to create a strategy to assist renters as well as apartment owners who have been hurt by the financial problems of their tenants. Credit counselors will assist renters with plans to address sustainable rent replacement, debt management and improve their long-term financial health while preserving their housing status. The full report from Apartment List is available here.

If you need emergency rental assistance and housing counseling, call 844-865-2463 or visit www.nfcc.org to find an NFCC member agency.

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