Buildings with fewer than five units account for about half of all US rental units (PDF). Units in these buildings, especially in two-to-four-unit buildings, are more affordable than units in larger multifamily buildings, and owners of these units are more likely to be mom-and-pop landlords rather than institutional investors. These independent owners often don’t have deep pockets, and they’re more likely to struggle financially during economic challenges. Despite the importance of this housing sector, rent payment data for buildings with one to four units haven’t been available.

Some survey data, including from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and the University of Southern California’s Understanding America Study, track household rental payments, but their sample sizes are small, and we often find mismatches between housing payment numbers in the survey data and in the administrative data.

The only publicly available administrative rent payment data are provided by the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), which tracks monthly rental payment information for 11.7 million units of professionally managed apartment units. The NMHC data cover about one-fourth of all rental properties in the US, but the sample is concentrated in the high end of the market and units in large multifamily buildings, leaving out tenants with low incomes living in rental properties with fewer units.

To address the lack of data in this space, Urban has partnered with Avail—an online platform that serves independent landlords—to create a new feature that tracks rental payments to mom-and-pop landlords over time nationally and in selected states and metropolitan areas. This tool sheds light on which landlords and tenants are financially struggling, the impact of government emergency aid and related policies on people’s ability to pay rent, and where growing disparities are emerging.

Read the full article about struggling to pay rent by Jung Hyun Choi, Laurie Goodman, and Daniel Pang at Urban Institute.