AMES, Iowa — Numerous studies have examined tenants’ issues during the COVID-19 pandemic. The same can’t be said for landlords. An Iowa State University research team wants to change that.
A $60,000 rapid response grant from the National Science Foundation will allow the team to study how landlord decision-making has contributed to rental housing instability during the pandemic.
The research team includes Jane Rongerude, associate professor of community and regional planning; Biswa Das, associate professor of community and regional planning and specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach; Daniel Kuhlmann, assistant professor of community and regional planning; and Lily Wang, professor of statistics.
They will study Cleveland; Minneapolis; and Lexington, Kentucky. The research will include surveys and interviews with landlords and property managers, as well as interviews with local government officials and policy stakeholders.
“As a person who studies housing, when COVID-19 started and there was news of the first rental moratorium, it seemed clear to me that we had a potential eviction crisis on our hands,” Rongerude said. “People were not expected to pay their rent for awhile, but there was nothing in place to guarantee that at the end of that moratorium they would be able to pay their rent.
“There has been really good work looking at housing instability from the tenants’ perspective, but I found that almost no one talks to landlords, even though they’re an essential piece of our system.”
Kuhlmann says it is essential to capture in real time how the pandemic affects landlords, and how those effects turn into issues for tenants and local governments.
“We know that people are experiencing economic hardship right now and we know that often translates into housing insecurity,” Kuhlmann said.
Das comes to this project with expertise in local governments. He wants to understand what role local governments’ policies have played in rental housing stability during the pandemic.
“There’s a certain level of skepticism about landlords and government, and a lack of trust between these two groups,” Das said. “Hopefully, our study will help us to understand the nuances of this lack of communication and understanding between these two critical groups that are so important to the housing market in every community.”
The team hopes that the study’s findings can help local governments as they evaluate disaster policy responses and rental housing stability strategies in the aftermath of disasters.
“There are instances across the nation of local governments stepping up to assist, but a lot of that effort has been providing assistance to tenants,” Das said. “The unique aspect of our study is to see if landlords can also be looped into this response, as they are the suppliers of rental housing.”
Data science will be essential to this project, Wang says, as databases will need to be created to capture data on landlords and their characteristics.
An additional grant from the Polk County Housing Trust Fund will allow the research team to collect data on landlords in Polk County.