Economy

The U.S. Has an Affordable Housing Problem

April 5th 2016

By:
Kyle Jaeger

There aren't nearly enough affordable housing options for America's lowest income renters. For every 100 families who fall into the "extreme low income" category, only 31 affordable units are available on average, a new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found.

affordable housing

To qualify as "extreme low income," families have to earn less than 30 percent of the median income in their area, and "affordable housing" means not having to spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Based on data from the 2014 American Community Survey, the report reveals that the country's 10.4 million extreme low income households lack 7.2 million affordable rental units.

Here's what the affordable housing crisis looks like at the state level.

affordable housing

Not a single state in the U.S. offers enough affordable housing options to meet the needs of America's poorest families. Overall, 20 states fell below the national average in terms of affordable housing. Nevada only has 17 affordable rental units per 100 extreme low income households; California, Alaska, and Arizona offer 21 affordable units per 100 families.

The trend gets worse the poorer the household is, leaving families with incomes in the bottom 15 percent at an even greater disadvantage, with only 17 affordable units available per 100 households nationally. Considering the fact that extreme low income earners represent 24 percent of all renter households and nine percent of all U.S. households, the demand for affordable housing is immense.

NLIHC

What's more, 75 percent of extreme low income families spent more than 50 percent of their incomes on rent and utilities. Ninety-three percent of those who fell in the lowest 15 percent of incomes did the same.

"Severe housing cost burden is a risk factor for housing instability and homelessness," the report's authors wrote. "With a stretched household budget, a trip to the hospital or a car repair can spell financial disaster, edging a family closer to eviction. Housing instability can cause significant disruptions for family members, such as children’s education and health care treatment to individuals with chronic illnesses."

What's to blame for the affordable housing crisis?

affordable housing

A lack of investment in affordable housing development is one of the root causes of the crisis, the NLIHC reports. The authors acknowledge that the cost of development is high, of course, but argue that the long-held theory that affordable housing will trickle down — a process known as "filtering" — is insufficient. The theory of "filtering" can't be counted on to provide enough housing, and often doesn't fill the need for people who need to move into low income housing units.

It's also important to consider that rent inflation has hit the lowest income earners the hardest in many cases, so while "[n]ew construction dampens inflationary pressures at the top of the market... filtering does little to dampen housing cost inflation for low income households."

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