Crowd protesting evictions
Toggle caption Photo by AP/Mary Altaffer

COVID-19’s housing crisis hit many Asians in the US hardest – but only after government aid began flowing

Kusum Mundra, an associate professor in the Department of Economics, writes for the Conversation about how Covid-19's housing crisis hit many Asians especially hard. 

The big idea

People of Asian descent living in the U.S. experienced an increase in housing vulnerability in 2021 – as measured by the share who said they had fallen behind on their rent or mortgage payments – even as the government spent over US$5 trillion trying to relieve the COVID-19 pandemic’s burden on Americans. Meanwhile, housing vulnerability among white people, Black people and Hispanic people all fell during this period.

These are the main findings of our recent working paper that examined housing vulnerability during the pandemic.

The massive upheaval sparked by the pandemic in early 2020 put millions out of work and made it harder for many people to afford basic necessities like rent amid government-imposed lockdowns. In December 2020, over 2 million homeowners were more than three months behind on their mortgage payment, and 8 million renters were behind on their rent, according to a March 2021 Consumer Finance Bureau report.

We wanted to better understand what was driving this degree of housing vulnerability, how that changed during the pandemic and across ethnic groups, and how it differed between renters and homeowners. To find out, we examined data from the Census Household Pulse Survey, which has sought to quickly measure the social and economic toll from the pandemic in frequent surveys, for three different periods: April/May 2020, April/May 2021 and April/May 2022.

We found that housing vulnerability was high for all groups in early 2020 as the first financial shock of the pandemic struck, though people of color and renters were especially hard hit.