America's Housing Affordability Challenges

 

November 2016 update

Overall, 39.8 million U.S. households—more than a third of all U.S. households—were “housing cost-burdened” in 2014, according to the latest, comprehensive statistics from the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS). JCHS, The State of the Nation’s Housing 2016 (“SOHN 2016”), p. 31, (“Cost-burdened” households spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.) About 16.5 percent of U.S. households had severe housing cost burdens (more than 50 percent of income went to housing costs).

Within those massive totals are several challenges that are increasing—such as housing cost burdens of renters, and the increasing income segregation in America’s metropolitan areas—as well as other challenges that are lessening.

Homelessness

Close to 1.5 million Americans were homeless at some point during the year ending in September 2015. About 565,000 people were homeless on the night in January 2016 when the annual, point-in-time nationwide survey was conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD, 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress: Part 2, pp. ix, xii, xiii (October 2016).

The U.S. Conference of Mayors reports that lack of affordable housing was cited as the leading cause of homelessness by far among families with children, and also among unaccompanied individuals. Other factors cited in its most recent report (December 2015) as leading to homelessness are poverty, unemployment, low-paying jobs, mental health and substance abuse issues. U.S.. Conference of Mayors, 2015 Status Report on Hunger & Homelessness, pp. 2, 13.

There actually has been a substantial reduction in homelessness over the past several years. The 2016 point-in-time survey total was an 11 percent drop from the comparable total for 2010, and the annual figure for the year ending in September 2015 was a 7 percent drop from the comparable figure for 2010.

Governments have concentrated their efforts on: (1) homeless veterans, who have federal benefits that can be put toward housing, and (2) the chronically homeless, who cost government the most. Homelessness among veterans fell by 36 percent nationwide, between 2010 and 2015.

And chronic homelessness fell 22 percent in 2010–2015—due largely to the expansion of permanent supportive housing (which offers services to address the mental health and substance abuse issues that many homeless people have). Homelessness among people in homeless families with children improved too, although only about 15 percent, during that period.

Increasing cost burdens of rental households

Among the nation’s other, major housing challenges is the increasing number of cost-burdened renter households, which rose substantially to a record 21.3 million households in 2014. More than half of those renters (11.4 million households) paid more than 50 percent of their income for their housing.

Almost half of renters earning $30,000–44,999 were cost-burdened in 2014 (48 percent, even higher than the 47 percent in 2010). And the cost-burdened rate among renters earning $45,000–74,999 held at the 2010 peak of 21 percent. Low- and moderate-income people must make serious tradeoffs between paying the rent (or mortgage) and providing adequate food, clothing, health care, and other basic needs for themselves and any other members of their households. 

increasing income segregation in housing

An important, new study finds that the percentage of families in America’s large metropolitan areas who lived in predominantly “rich” or “poor” neighborhoods (as opposed to middle-income neighborhoods), rose fairly steadily, from 15% in 1970 to 34% in 2012. (K. Bischoff and S. Reardon, The Continuing Increase in Income Segregation, 2007–2012, Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis, 2016.)That study also finds a significant, and fairly steady, increase in income segregation in housing in smaller metropolitan areas.  

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Exclusionary zoning and other regulatory barriers to housing affordability are prime culprits in America’s housing affordability and income segregation problems. EHI plays an important role in combating those barriers, and EHI is still the only national organization focused primarily on removing them for all low- and moderate-income Americans. Read more on EXCLUSIONARY HOUSING POLICIES.