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Housing Perspectives

Research, trends, and perspective from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies

Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Like everyone else around the country and the world, staff at the Joint Center for Housing Studies are adjusting, day by day, to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, both in our personal lives and professionally. Since transitioning to remote work, just over a week ago, we’ve been meeting virtually to discuss our annual State of the Nation’s Housing report, which has been published every June since 1988. But as the impact of the virus on society, the economy, and the housing market grows by the day it has become abundantly clear that it will be months before we have a clear sense of the state of our nation’s housing. To that end, we have decided to postpone the release of this year’s report in the hopes that, later this year, we will have more clarity about the extent of the pandemic’s impact and the path forward.

In the meantime, we are doing what we can to fulfill our mission of advancing understanding of housing issues in these troubled times. One small step is the creation of a COVID-19 Housing Resources page on our website. The page provides links to news and information on the state of the market and responses by government, industry, and advocates to ameliorate the impact of the virus on renters, homeowners, and those without a home, as well as the industries and organizations that work to meet the nation’s housing needs.

We are also going to use this blog to shed light on the impacts of the pandemic and the responses needed from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Among the questions we intend to address are: which households and segments of the housing industry are most vulnerable to the economic dislocation caused by the pandemic and therefore most in need of support? What lessons are there from the past or from other countries about the path forward for the housing market or the responses needed after such an acute disruption to the economy?

Housing is a foundational element of every person’s well-being. And with nearly a fifth of US gross domestic product rooted in housing-related expenditures, it is also critical to the well-being of our broader economy. This virus presents a grave threat to both. With widespread unemployment, renters and homeowners alike face the prospect of not being able to meet their monthly housing payments, risking eviction and foreclosure. Those without a home face the risk of exposure to the virus from living in shelters or encampments, with fewer options to get out of the elements as libraries, coffee shops, and other public spaces are shuttered. Meanwhile, landlords and lenders face the loss of income from people’s inability to make their monthly payments, those involved in building, selling, and furnishing homes see their businesses stopped in their tracks, and the mortgage finance system shudders from the massive disruption in financial markets. A strong and well-crafted policy response is needed to ensure that people remain housed and the industries that provide housing remain viable. The Center will do all we can to provide the information and insights needed to inform the critical work ahead.