Congress is currently debating President Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal for additional coronavirus relief funds. The president’s proposal and subsequent proposals from the House Financial Services Committee include $25 billion in rental assistance funding to cover back rent and provide additional help to renters during 2021. This is in addition to the $25 billion passed in the December 27 coronavirus relief bill. Although $50 billion in emergency rental assistance funding may seem like a large amount, it is likely not enough to improve the financial situation for renters, many of whom were struggling before the pandemic.

There is no comprehensive way to track rental payments, and it is difficult to know how much back rent is owed because high-quality data are unavailable. Unlike mortgage payment data, for which multiple data providers aggregate and offer almost real-time payment status for most homeowners, rental payment information can be obtained only through surveys with relatively small samples or indirectly estimated using non-housing-related datasets that show unemployment claims and job losses. Thus, estimates of back rent owed by early 2021 range from $8.4 billion to $52.6 billion. A range this large can be confusing and lead to a lack of action. We analyzed the three most-quoted estimates of back rent to understand the assumptions underlying each.

The crisis has only increased financial pressure on many renter households. Even without a perfect estimate of back rent owed, it’s clear that $50 billion is the minimum needed to keep families stay stably housed now and over the next several months as the nation continues to respond to the pandemic.

Read the full article about back rent by Laurie Goodman, Kathryn Reynolds, and Jung Hyun Choi at Urban Institute.