Urban Institute: How Housing Counselors Are Navigating Challenges

(Illustration courtesy of Urban Institute)

The Urban Institute, Washington, D.C., on Thursday released research on the experiences of HUD-certified housing counselors who mobilized to serve renting families during the pandemic and their reflections on the evolving needs of renters post-pandemic.

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s Affordable Rental Housing Advisory Council funded the research. “As champions of affordable housing, MBA is committed to strengthening the pivotal role of rental counseling in support of underserved individuals and communities ,” said MBA 2023 Chairman Matt Rocco, president of Colliers Mortgage. “Amid the pandemic’s challenges, housing counseling emerged as a beacon of stability, as evidenced by the Urban Institute’s research, which reveals the indispensable support provided by HUD-certified housing counselors, navigating renters through financial complexities.”

Report funders included Shekar Narasimhan, Managing Partner at Beekman Advisors, Tony Love, Senior Vice President at Bellwether Enterprise Real Estate Capital, CBRE, Bellwether Enterprise and Gantry.

While research has shown how housing counseling helps renters become owners and owners avoid foreclosure, less is known about how it can help renters succeed. The pandemic and its aftermath have increased renter precarity.

Emergency funding for renter counseling enabled agencies to build new capabilities to serve renters and gave them new insights into the challenges renters face in obtaining and sustaining safe and affordable housing.

The findings show that:

The predicted eviction tsunami never materialized during the pandemic due in part to large-scale renter protection and support programs that included housing counseling by non-profit and government organizations across the country.

Financial assistance and tenant protections such as eviction moratoriums are a crucial part of housing stability during a crisis, but renters need help learning about and navigating the complex systems to get aid. 

Housing counseling can play an important role in stabilizing renters through the entire housing cycle, and especially during severe disruptions like the pandemic, natural disasters and the financial crisis of 2008.

Housing counselors help renters find, finance, rent and maintain a home, provide referrals to support housing needs, and, by focusing on budgeting and understanding tenant rights and responsibilities, help families make payments and navigate financial shocks. 

As renters continue to face challenges, investments in and learnings from scaling rental counseling during the pandemic can inform more permanent renter counseling programs. 

The Urban Institute is continuing to research the role housing counselors play in rental stability by undertaking an evaluation of the Housing Stability Counseling Program which distributed $100 million in federal funds to expand housing counseling capacity in response to the pandemic. MBA and its members are committed to addressing the barriers to sustainable housing for persons and communities of color and expanding the opportunities for wealth creation and stability that come from homeownership and affordable rental housing.