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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

How COVID-19 Is Amplifying Racial Housing Disparities


Traditional roadblocks to housing are being amplified by COVID-19. A new report from the Urban Institute shows the pandemic is widening racial and economic divides. 

KERA's Justin Martin talked with Alanna McCargo, vice president of housing finance policy at the Urban Institute about the findings in the report.

Interview Highlights

The Housing Reality Before COVID-19

I think it's important for everyone to understand that while the housing market overall had gotten stronger prior to the pandemic, the reality is for black and Latino families, there were still a number of barriers to accessing home ownership: lending barriers related to down payment, paying higher rents and having a really difficult time being able to afford housing.

House prices were on the rise and in many locations around the country, and that affordability issue was very, very present prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting.

The 'Household Pulse Survey'

The data is a quick scan of a pretty large sample of over 130,000 households where the census is basically asking or taking a pulse on these families' abilities to pay their rent and pay their mortgage; getting a sense of whether or not they were able to make those payments last month, and then also what they're feeling about their ability to pay next month.

It's giving us a really good sense of households, broken down by different demographic characteristics.

It's broken down by income, it's broken down by race and it helps us to really understand how families are, in this kind of real time way, coping with the unemployment, job loss, income loss this pandemic has been wreaking on families. 

How COVID Has Changed Things For Families Of Color

The data really does suggest that we had persistent racial home-ownership gaps, persistent unaffordable housing on the rental side; people essentially really cost-burdened.

This is really showing a lot of widening in those disparities by race and income, and that's the report that we recently released that really shows from this new data what we expected in terms of people's inability to pay rent.

What it really points out very clearly is how critically different and worse things appear to be as it relates to housing and stability for families of color.

COVID-19 And Housing Reform

COVID-19 has, if it's done nothing else, really put right in our face the kind of legacy of racial discrimination and stability, and just sort of how these dynamics play out so differently for people of color than others in America. I think that compounded by the fact that we have just some other very tense racial policing and other issues that have been in the news as of late.

I think people are really starting to take a look at how do we start to root out and get into the structural issues that are built into our systems. And in this case, our housing finance system, how do you really start to make change that truly gets at the root of the systemic bias that persists in our markets, and why is it that certain parts of the population do not appear to have equal footing? It's sort of front and center.

The data confirms that it always has been there. This isn't new thanks to COVID, but it has truly been exacerbated as a result of this pandemic and the aftermath of this pandemic. You know, we're still in the midst of it. And we've got, I think, a long road ahead. 

Got a tip? Email Justin Martin at You can follow Justin on Twitter @MisterJMart.

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Justin Martin is KERA’s local host of All Things Considered, anchoring afternoon newscasts for KERA 90.1. Justin grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and avidly listened to the Voice of America and National Public Radio whenever stateside. He graduated from the American Broadcasting School, and further polished his skills with radio veteran Kris Anderson of the Mighty 690 fame, a 50,000 watt border-blaster operating out of Tijuana, Mexico. Justin has worked as holiday anchor for the USA Radio Network, serving the U.S. Armed Forces Network. He’s also hosted, produced, and engineered several shows, including the Southern Gospel Jubilee on 660 KSKY.