As we close in on July 1, stress levels are high for the many Seattle-area renters who have lost employment. New survey data shows that nearly one in five renters in our metro area doubt they can make their July payment.
There are about 1.1 million adults in rented households in our metro area, which includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. About 102,000 say they have no confidence in their ability to make next month’s rent, and 78,000 have only slight confidence. An additional 28,000 have arranged to defer July’s payment.
That adds up to about 208,000 renters, or 18%, who probably can’t make rent.
As terrible as that is, the data shows that Seattle renters are, at the moment, in better shape than renters in any other of the 15 largest metro areas in the U.S. It’s surely a sign of the strength of the economy here before the COVID-19 pandemic caused an economic meltdown.
The worst numbers are in the Miami area, where, incredibly, almost half (49%) of renters feel that they can’t make July’s payment. In New York, Atlanta, Houston and Detroit, it’s more than a third.
A handful of metro areas have percentages that are closer to Seattle’s. In San Francisco, 19% doubt they can make next month’s rent, almost the same as the Seattle number.
Nationally, 27% of renters feel they won’t be able to make their July payment.
This data comes from the Household Pulse Survey, a new endeavor by the U.S. Census Bureau, working in conjunction with five other federal agencies. Unlike other census products, which have a long lag time, the Household Pulse Survey provides near real-time data.
These statistics are intended to help inform officials and policymakers about the impacts of the pandemic on communities across the country, and to provide data to aid in the post-pandemic recovery.
The Household Pulse Survey publishes new data on a weekly basis, and includes data for the 15 largest metro areas (Seattle just makes the cut at No. 15). For this column, I used the most recent release available, with data collected from June 4 to 9.
The number of respondents varies from week to week. For the survey I used, there were more than 83,000 respondents nationally, and more than 1,500 in Seattle.
Renter protections vary from state to state. A Princeton University project called Eviction Lab ranks each state based on the amount of support for renters. Washington receives 3.5 stars out of a possible 5. Massachusetts and Connecticut top the rankings, each with 4 stars.
Renters in our state do not have to worry about evictions, at least for the immediate future. Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee extended, for the second time, a moratorium on evictions. It now runs through Aug. 1.
As you would expect, the data show that renters with higher incomes and higher levels of education are far more likely to feel confident about paying next month’s rent than those who are poorer and less educated. And renters with children in the household are much more worried than those who do not live with children.
The Seattle-area data on race shows that white renters are best positioned, with 16% not able to make July’s rent, compared with 21% of renters who are people of color.
It should be noted that with so many renters unable to make their payments, this crisis also hits many landlords hard — in particular, those smaller “mom-and-pop” landlords.
Homeowners are in better shape than renters — that’s true in Seattle and across the nation. There has always been a large wealth gap between homeowners and renters, and in the current crisis, homeowners are a lot more likely to be employed in white-collar occupations that haven’t been hit as hard as service and retail jobs.
Also, close to one-quarter of Seattle-area homeowners own their home free-and-clear, and don’t have to worry about mortgage payments. There’s no equivalent for renters.
Even so, the numbers of homeowners who feel they can’t make July’s mortgage payment is significant. In Seattle, about 198,000 homeowners — that’s 10% — have no confidence or slight confidence in making their next payment, or have arranged to defer it.
While the percentage of renters in Seattle who aren’t confident in their ability to make rent is well below average, the 10% figure for homeowners is on par with the national average.