Housing requests growing faster in low-poverty ZIP codes

April 20, 2020

The differences are small, but clear. Five weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, the proportion of housing assistance requests to 2-1-1 helplines is increasing faster in low-poverty ZIP codes than high-poverty ZIP codes. This trend is worth watching, as it may indicate that more Americans living in wealthier neighborhoods are feeling the economic fallout of the pandemic. We examined requests for housing assistance – which includes rent and mortgage payments, homeless shelters and home repair – by ZIP code in all or parts of 31 states. ZIP codes were classified into five categories based the percent of residents living in poverty. In ZIP codes with <5% poverty, requests for housing increased by 53% from the 5 weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic to the 5 weeks that followed. Requests increased by 61% in the next lowest category, ZIP codes with 5-<10% in poverty. By comparison, high poverty ZIP codes (≥20% in poverty) increased only 21%. These findings are shown in the top chart; mouseover each pre- to post-COVID-19 line to see the percent change. The bottom chart shows how the proportion of housing requests changed week-to-week over the 10-week period. In analyses, 2-1-1s with statewide coverage included AL, AR, CT, DE, FL, HI, IA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, NC, NE, NJ, NV, NY, PA, SC, SD, VA, WI and WY; 2-1-1s with partial coverage included CA, IL, IN, KS, KY, OH and TN.

Contributors:  Rachel Garg, Balaji Golla, Matthew Kreuter