Policy Spotlight: Mitigating Housing Instability During the COVID-19 Pandemic

March 30, 2021

Policy Spotlight: Mitigating Housing Instability During the COVID-19 Pandemic


  • Michelle D. Layser
  • Andrew Greenlee
  • Edward W. De Barbieri
  • Tracy A. Kaye
  • Blaine G. Saito

This Policy Spotlight suggests remedies to the current, national housing crisis based on an analysis of policies adopted to counter the housing market crash of 2008.

The COVID-19 pandemic put millions of Americans out of work and at risk of homelessness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) placed an emergency moratorium on evictions, but the expiration of that moratorium and others enacted by states threaten to bring a flood of evictions.

Nationally, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household PULSE Survey found that between August and November last year, 15% to 18% of renters were behind on their rent each week. In Illinois, approximately 250,000 households faced eviction in Cook County alone as of February 2021.

Housing instability intensifies the public health threat of COVID-19, as people are forced into living situations that increase the chance of spreading the virus, such as multiple families crowded into one residence. Many Americans were already on the brink of financial insecurity before the pandemic, so the economic disruption hit hard, especially for communities of color, rural communities, tribal communities, women, members of sexual and gender minority groups, and people with disabilities.

When the authors analyzed the response to the 2008 housing crisis and Great Recession, they found that the most successful programs used direct methods, such as assisting people with rent or mortgage payments to help keep them in their homes or connecting people who were evicted with emergency housing or other housing options. Programs that used indirect methods, such as calling on banks and lending institutions to voluntarily renegotiate the terms of loans, were not highly utilized by Americans in need of assistance. 

The spotlight describes how existing programs could be adapted to meet the current crisis. It also recommends reinstatement of some programs that followed the 2008 crash, such as the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, which provided funding for rehousing and temporary housing solutions like hotel and motel vouchers. The authors urge policymakers to not only respond to the immediate crisis but also consider how to address economic and housing instability in the long term. This will help avoid repeating some of the pitfalls of the 2008 housing crisis that continue to reverberate today. 


(.PDF 3.4 MB)

Research Area: Fiscal and Economic Policy

Policy Initiative: none