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Large portion of Boston residents struggled to pay full housing costs for April, report says

Nearly 1 in 4 tenant and owner households had trouble making the rent or the mortgage at the start of the month, likely due to the coronavirus pandemic

An aerial shot of a big metro region with a river running through it. Shutterstock

It’s impossible to say the exact share, but it looks like a sizable proportion of both homeowners and tenants in the Boston area were unable to pay their full housing costs for April, according to at least one study.

The economic upheaval due to the novel coronavirus pandemic is, of course, to blame. But so perhaps is the region’s density. That’s according to an analysis from listings and research site Apartment List. The site found that some 24 percent of homeowners and tenants nationwide made partial or no payments at all, based on a survey.

Rob Warnock, a research associate at Apartment List, extrapolated out what this might mean for the Boston area. There were not enough responses for the region for the site to draw any firm conclusions—but there was a clear, positive correlation between density and delinquency nationwide, Warnock said.

In areas that Apartment List defined as “high density”—more than 10,000 people per square mile—28 percent of survey respondents reported no or partial rent and mortgage payments for April. Boston’s density exceeds 13,000 people per square mile, Warnock said (and some surrounding municipalities, including Somerville and Cambridge, are even denser).

“So, even though we don’t have the sample to calculate a precise number, I think it’s safe to estimate the city’s delinquency rate is at least 28 percent, several percentage points above the national average,” Warnock said over email.

This correlation between high density and delinquency might simply be a reflection of the densest areas tending to be the most expensive to begin with.

Homeowners and tenants in Greater Boston do face grave challenges amid the pandemic’s fallout. But they are getting some help. A dozen major mortgage lenders, for instance, have agreed to offer qualified Boston borrowers at least three months of deferred payments on their home loans under a plan that the city brokered. And qualified tenants can tap into myriad aid programs and funds. Also, most evictions have ceased temporarily throughout the Boston region.

Meanwhile, rents and prices remain high, though the coming weeks might see both come down—at least for a bit—in what’s easily one of the nation’s priciest housing markets.