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The COVID-19 pandemic created divergent fortunes for different parts of the income scale, and housing provides some of the starkest examples.
Low-income earners were more likely to lose their jobs or have hours cut back and as a result relied more on government stimulus measures like direct payments, expanded unemployment benefits, eviction moratoriums, and mortgage forbearance programs to keep their housing arrangements. Meanwhile, middle and upper income earners were able to benefit from low interest rates, strong savings and market returns, and increasingly flexible work policies to seek out new homes. These households’ interest in buying homes led to sky-high demand for residential real estate, with homes quickly being snapped up off the market for record prices.
Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau illustrates how rapidly homeownership has risen during the pandemic as a result of this demand. Homeownership began to decline after the collapse of the housing bubble and Great Recession and only began to recover after 2015. Since then, homeownership had slowly been trending upward but saw an especially sharp spike from 2019 to 2020. In that year, the homeownership rate rose two percentage points, from 64.6% to 66.6%, while the raw number of owner-occupied units rose by 4.6 million, to 83.8 million.