New report highlights housing insecurity and the need for aggressive action
Today, the CFPB released our first analysis of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on housing. The good news is that actions taken by both the public and private sector have, so far, prevented many families from losing their homes during the height of the public health crisis. However, as legal protections expire in the months ahead, over 11 million families — nearly 10 percent of U.S. households — are at risk of eviction and foreclosure.
Put simply: we have very little time to prevent millions of families from losing their homes.
It’s common sense that safe, affordable, and stable housing provides the foundation for people’s well-being, financial and otherwise. Stable homes mean stable neighborhoods and communities. When people lose their homes, their lives, health, and finances are all disrupted. Even the threat of losing a family’s home can force tough financial decisions, including skipping payments on food, medicine, and heat to keep a roof over their head.
We also know that many, particularly in Black and Hispanic communities, have still not recovered from the last financial crisis, more than a decade ago. And those same communities are once again bearing a disproportionate financial and health burden during the pandemic, through no fault of their own.
Current state of housing insecurity: The numbers
- The number of homeowners behind on their mortgage has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic—6 percent of mortgages were delinquent as of December 2020.
- More homeowners are behind on their mortgages now than at any time since 2010, which was the peak of the Great Recession.
- 2.1 million homeowners are more than 90 days behind on payments, a key benchmark for being “seriously delinquent” in mortgage payments. That’s five times the number of families that were more than 90 days behind on their mortgage before the pandemic began.
- Black and Hispanic families are more than twice as likely to report being behind on their housing payments than white families.
- An estimated 8.8 million tenant households are behind on their rent.
- Nearly 10 percent of renters reported that they’re likely to be evicted in the next two months, with the rates highest among Black and Hispanic households.
These aggregated metrics are based on housing data available in December 2020.
Addressing housing insecurity
I am deeply concerned that a mass wave of evictions and foreclosures will turn millions of families out on the streets. Such an event will not only be a humanitarian and public health disaster but will have repercussions throughout the housing sector and our economy at large.
The CFPB was created in the aftermath of the 2007-08 housing crisis, and Congress uniquely equipped us to address the current looming housing crisis. Where we can use our authority to keep people in their homes, we will. Where we can coordinate public and private efforts to save homes, we will. Where we can prevent the weight of this crisis falling upon communities who are already struggling — whether they are Black, Hispanic, Native, rural, or lower-income — we will. And in those unfortunate instances where families can no longer stay in their homes, we will do everything we can to ensure that people are treated with dignity, families are able to preserve as much of their equity as possible, and everyone can make a smooth transition to other safe, secure, and affordable housing.
While the CFPB is planting itself firmly on the side of homeowners and renters, as our statutory mandate requires, we know mortgage servicers and landlords are also working to keep people in their homes. The lenders we’ve spoken to understand that the chaos of the last housing crisis wasn’t good for their bottom line, either. Most mortgage servicers are working hard to engage with the record number of homeowners in forbearance and the many other homeowners struggling to make payments. And many landlords have dipped into their own savings or run up credit card debt to cover expenses during the pandemic.
We all need to work together to respond to and recover from the pandemic. All of us will benefit from a solution that keeps people in their homes during this crisis and ensures a smooth path forward for everyone when life and our economy return to normal.
I’ve instructed our teams to take the following steps:
Protect homeowners from unnecessary foreclosure and loss of wealth
I am directing our policy teams to consider all of the CFPB’s available tools to preserve people’s homes and protect them from unnecessary foreclosure. We’re continuing to work closely with our federal agency partners, including the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), on measures to ensure homeowners receive the assistance they need to avoid unnecessary foreclosures. We want families to keep their homes where that makes sense and, where it doesn’t, that families have a chance to explore other options that let them preserve as much of their investment as possible.
Where, unfortunately, families are no longer able to maintain homeownership, I’m directing our teams to work toward an orderly, humane, and equitable outcome for families. Families need time to sell their homes, time to find and secure alternate and safe housing, time to pack up and move. No family should be forced through foreclosure without a chance to explore options, including the opportunity to sell their home for fair market value. At a time when many homeowners have accumulated wealth and equity in their homes, making sure families have a chance to recover and grow their investment is particularly important. This is doubly true for the Black and Hispanic families who are among those most likely to bear the brunt of the pandemic now as well as having suffered the greatest loss of wealth and homeownership in the last financial crisis.
Make sure homeowners and renters have the tools they need now
We know that homeowners and renters can struggle to understand what their options are and that they sometimes don’t know whom to trust. That’s why, in close collaboration with our federal agency partners, the CFPB is providing homeowners and renters the resources they need, including understanding their rights and protections, making them aware of scams, and helping them learn how best to request forbearance or mortgage relief.
We know that many people haven’t requested the relief for which they may be eligible. For example, roughly 263,000 families are at least 90 days behind on their mortgage and not in forbearance. The CFPB will engage with homeowners to help them know they have options, including sharing information with our most vulnerable consumers and communities. We will continue to share updates as we expand our work in this area.
Continue our work to understand the causes and cures of the housing insecurity crisis
This report sets the stage for more work by the CFPB to develop options to head off a national foreclosure and eviction crisis. I’ve directed our research teams to redouble their efforts to track delinquencies, foreclosures, and evictions to get a firm picture of what’s happening across U.S. households. We’re looking at the complaint data we collect and data from other sources, like public data from mortgage servicers, to gain as complete a picture of the current crisis as possible to drive our actions.
We need to know more about homeowners and communities to help them overcome the inevitable financial impacts of a crisis of this magnitude. While there are significant differences compared to the last mortgage crisis, including a more stable mortgage market and substantial homeowner equity, we need to know more. We don’t know if the most vulnerable communities, hit the hardest by COVID-19 and its financial impacts, have sufficient equity to buffer them from the consequences of extended forbearances and job loss. Cascading foreclosures in a neighborhood can bring down housing values, shrinking equity. Families hit hardest by the pandemic and its financial impacts may not be able to find adequate alternate and safe housing, even if they are able to sell their homes without losses. The scale of housing insecurity among both renters and homeowners presents new risks to families and the communities they live in.
We will be working hard to understand these interlocking risks. We are committed to using all of our authorities to address the risks posed by this historic level of housing insecurity while there is still time to avoid full-on catastrophe.
Talk to us. We’re listening.
While today’s report summarizes what we know about the pandemic’s impact on housing, we need to know more to help develop on-time solutions. Through this challenge, I invite you to engage with us. If you’re having trouble getting in touch with your mortgage servicer, submit a complaint through the CFPB.
We also invite you to share your own experience with housing insecurity — or ideas on what the CFPB can do to help — through Your Money. Your Story. or tweet them to #CFPBforYou. The CFPB is listening and relies on your input.
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