ISU researchers expanding study of landlords, rental housing markets

Jane Rongerude, Iowa State University

Just as a landlord’s decisions during and following a disaster affect their tenants, they also affect the housing stability of the broader community.

A team led by Iowa State University researchers recently received a $635,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to build upon their work studying this issue over the past year, thanks to an NSF rapid response grant.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light the regulatory and market complexity of rental housing across the United States. Market stability is intertwined with landlord decision-making, the researchers say.

But very little research about landlords exists.

The team’s work is building a foundation of research that can help cities and policymakers better understand this important area, since rental housing occupies a significant portion of the housing stock in U.S. metropolitan areas.

“One of the main challenges is, how do you find these folks?” said Jane Rongerude, associate professor of community and regional planning. “We’ve learned how important rental registries and certification programs are. It’s absolutely essential that local governments know who owns their rental properties. It’s shocking to me, given how important rental properties are in the housing system, how little we know about who owns those properties.”

Without this knowledge of who landlords are and their behaviors and needs, Ms. Rongerude says that cities and policymakers are left during a disaster to guess how to stabilize their rental markets, keep people housed, help property owners and plan for disaster recovery.

In addition to their original study of Cleveland, Minneapolis, and Tampa, Florida, this grant will allow the team to add cities that are at high risk of experiencing disaster, including Miami and New Orleans, as well as Texas cities Austin, Dallas and Houston. Data collection will occur over three years.

The team’s most thorough analysis to date has been in Minneapolis, where a public registry contains 95% of property owners. Through surveys and interviews, the researchers learned that property owners shouldered a lot of stress.

“What does that look like for property owners when there’s a disaster like the pandemic?” Ms. Rongerude said. “In Minneapolis, we found that property owners who had more units, who rented to lower-income tenants, whose units were in poorer condition or received lower inspection grades, and Black property owners were more likely to experience stress.”

Renters undoubtedly experienced tremendous stress throughout the pandemic, she says, but that stress cascades through property owners to the ability of the community’s housing market to be resilient in the wake of a disaster.

The expanded team includes the original team of Jane Rongerude; Biswa Das, associate professor of community and regional planning; Daniel Kuhlmann, assistant professor of community and regional planning; and Lily Wang, professor of statistics at George Mason University and previously at ISU, as well as Elizabeth Mueller, associate professor of community and regional planning at University of Texas, Austin; and Jake Wegmann, associate professor of community and regional planning at UT Austin.