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Are we paying rent?

An apartment building in Brooklyn, New York on March 25. Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images

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Like 22 million other Americans, dance instructor and choreographer Anthony Davidson has suddenly found himself without a job. He didn’t pay April rent and he isn’t going to pay May’s.

“I need to save every penny I can, now, because I don’t know how long it will last or how long it will be until I have a paycheck again,” Davidson said.

He’s getting unemployment, but he can either use it to pay rent or pay for … everything else.

“My highest priority is medical insurance, because you never know what is going to happen,” he said.

At the beginning of April, it looked like 31% of apartment tenants had not paid rent on time. New data from the National Multifamily Housing Council show that some have since paid late or partially, but 16% haven’t paid any rent — still higher than usual. The numbers may be higher for commercial tenants and in some cities.

“Commercial tenants — a lot of them are not paying rent,” said Frank Ricci, director of government affairs for a landlord advocacy group the Rent Stabilization Association. Some landlords are working with tenants, Ricci added, and evictions have been paused in places like New York. But, he noted, landlords face expenses, too.

“I don’t think anyone wants to get to that decision point of making a choice between paying your property tax, versus paying a mortgage, versus paying a necessary repair. It’s an impossible choice,” Ricci said.

“Someone has got to foot the bill here and now the game is who’s best able to dance and avoid the problem and everyone’s trying to get themselves off the hook here,” Elliot Eisenberg, a real estate economist with economic consultancy Graphs and Laughs, told “Marketplace.”

Some economists warn that unpaid rents — and, in turn, unpaid mortgages — could further strain the financial system.

“In a normal recession, the problem is bad enough,” Eisenberg said. “But here, the speed at which the job losses have come has been so profound [that] these nonpayments become an immense issue because you’re losing large chunks of revenue.”

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