By Bianca Barragán
Reports of the Los Angeles County’s gig worker-dependent economy falling apart ring true, but rent collection numbers, while lower than those from last year across the board, don’t seem to paint Los Angeles as any worse off than other expensive, coastal cities, some experts say. But is paying the rent alone a good indicator of how hard the coronavirus pandemic has hit renters?
Los Angeles County had in August the second-highest unemployment rate in the state, 16.6% according to the state’s Employment Development Department.
According to data from RealPage, by the last week of August, 91.9% of LA renters had paid their rent, a 5.1% drop from 97% in 2019. By the last week of September, 93.4% of LA tenants had paid their rent compared to the 97.8% that had done so by the same time in 2019, or a difference of about 4.4%.
Stacking this year’s data up against 2019’s offers some necessary context to current numbers, said Adam Couch, a market analyst at RealPage, one of the companies whose data is used for the National Multifamily Housing Council’s nationwide rent payment tracker. The difference between the two years offers a good way to tell how much a metro has been impacted by the pandemic, Couch said.
Los Angeles saw a bigger year-over-year change in rent collection than New York in the last two months.
By the last week of August, RealPage shows that 90.5% of New Yorkers had paid their rent, a 3.1% drop from the same time in 2019. By the last week of September, 93.3% of New Yorkers had paid their rent, a 2.9% difference over the previous year.
But Couch said that the two metros have regularly been jockeying for position toward the top of the list of biggest discrepancies between 2019 and 2020 rent collection. He highlighted New York, LA and the Bay Area as some of the standouts in terms of decline, with New York being impacted the most.
Nothing in the data so far stands out about LA or indicates that it’s doing worse overall for rent collection than the Bay Area or New York, he said. “The rent payments in gateway markets have typically seen some of the largest annual declines,” Couch said.
That’s not totally surprising considering those areas are among the most expensive places in the country to live.
“It’s more difficult to make rent payments when rents are so expensive,” Couch said.
Additional federal unemployment benefits expiring and the smaller amounts that were being provided by states aren’t going to be as helpful toward paying for rent and other necessities in places where the rent is very high, Couch said.
Though RealPage’s data doesn’t indicate that Los Angeles renters are particularly hard-hit by the pandemic compared to renters in other cities, a report published by UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies suggests an additional layer to the story: that perhaps LA renters are going to unsustainable lengths to make their rent payments on time.
“Paying on time and in full, in other words, should not be mistaken for ‘having no problems’ paying rent,” the report said.
The report COVID-19 and Renter Distress used data from two sources: the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which the bureau undertook specifically to gather data on how American households have been affected by the pandemic. It includes questions about late rent payment and a more detailed survey of 1,000 LA County households conducted by a third party for UCLA.
The report was co-authored by USC Lusk Center for Real Estate Director Richard Green and UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs associate professors Michael Lens, Michael Manville and Paavo Monkkonen.
Using information from the survey, the report found that “nontrivial proportions” of renter households that were paying their full rent on time between May and July were doing so by using their savings, asking friends and family for help, or by using credit cards or high-interest payday loans. The use of these methods is much higher among households that paid rent late at least once in that time period, or that only made a partial rent payment during that time, the report said.
The UCLA survey found that just under 40% of renters who had paid rent late at least once and more than 40% of tenants who made a partial rent payment during those months had used a payday loan to help them pay rent during that time. Just under 40% of tenants who paid partial rent during the three-month span reported that they had used credit cards to help them pay rent.
“Looking at people and their ability to make rent, we should not mistake that for an absence of financial distress,” Manville said in a public discussion about the findings.
The original article can be found here.