Number of tenants behind on rent doubled during COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the housing rental market as new numbers show that the number of tenants who fell behind on rent doubled in 2021.

According to PolicyLink nearly 6.4 million households, or 15%, are behind on their rent. That’s more than double the percentage in 2017 when 7% of household renters were behind on their rent. However, the number of indebted renters has fallen from 19% in January. 

The country’s estimated rent debt is more than $21 billion. 

RELATED: Report: Full-time minimum wage workers can only afford rent in 7% of US counties

A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, is the only tool keeping millions of tenants that are behind on rent in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and have fallen months behind with payment.

Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.

As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.

"It’s an incredibly stressful situation for renters," said Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a nonprofit that works directly with consumers. "I don’t know what lies in the road ahead."

RELATED: California to pay back 100% of rent for low income renters impacted by the pandemic

Some states are enacting their own measures to help out renters. According to FOX 11, in the largest renter assistance program in the nation, $5.2 billion will go towards helping California renters who were affected by the pandemic. Governor Gavin Newsom said the program will pay back 100% of rent for low-income renters impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.