Two New Reports Point to Worsening Housing Affordability

July 5, 2019

Home, Together: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness includes an emphasis on improving housing affordability and opportunities for households exiting or at risk of homelessness. When housing is more affordable and accessible, it’s less likely that a household will experience homelessness; and those that do so will exit homelessness more quickly and stably.

But recent data reports lead to growing concerns about the state of housing affordability in America – including the dearth of rental units affordable to people across all income levels. There are many sources of data regarding housing needs and affordability, including those cited in USICH’s recent publication The Importance of Housing Affordability and Stability for Preventing and Ending Homelessness .

To those resources, we now add two studies hot off the presses: the Out of Reach report for 2019 , issued by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and The State of the Nation’s Housing 2019 , released by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Below we highlight a few key takeaways from each report.

Out of Reach Report 2019: A Few Takeaways

  • Nearly every county in America has an insufficient stock of rental units that are affordable and available to low-income renters.
  • The difference between wages and housing costs varies by locale, but there is no state where a minimum wage worker can afford a modest two-bedroom rental unit, if they work only 40 hours a week. This is true even in states where the minimum wage is set higher than the federal minimum wage.
  • A single worker making the federal minimum wage would need the rent to be $377 a month to spend less than 30% of their income on housing, which is the common definition of “affordable.” On average nationally, the one-bedroom fair market rent is $970.
  • Because they have been systematically denied opportunity through structural and institutional racism, the mismatch between wages and rental costs is worse for Black and Hispanic households – 20% of Black households and 16% of Hispanic households are renters with extremely low incomes; the rate for whites is 6%. Even among workers making the median national wage, whites make about $20.90 hourly on average while Black and Hispanic workers earn only $15.30.
  • Similarly, income inequality makes housing affordability worse for women than men. Based on national averages, a full-time male worker at the median wage level earns about $20.40 hourly and can afford a one-bedroom apartment; a similarly situated female earns about $17.20 and cannot afford that apartment.

The State of the Nation’s Housing 2019: A Few Takeaways

  • Overall rents are rising at twice the rate of inflation.
  • We lost more than 4 million low-cost rental units—with rents of $800 or less—across the country between 2011 and 2017. That’s a 17% drop nationwide. About 75% of metro areas with populations over 50,000 saw decreases in such units.
  • Adjusting for inflation and the relative costs of living across metro areas, the numbers are even worse: Total low-cost units dropped 77% over six years, with more than 90% of these metro areas with decreasing numbers of these units.
  • Families who pay a larger portion of their income for rent spend less money on basic needs, such as food, transportation, and health care. For example, families that spend more than 50% of their income on housing spent $313 a month on food compared to $425 spent by families that pay between 30% and 50% of their income on rent.

The data has never been more clear: we as a nation must address housing affordability, and we must make sure that people at risk of homelessness and/or with lived experience of homelessness are prioritized in our solutions. Some suggestions for action are offered in USICH’s Aligning Affordable Housing Efforts with Actions to End Homelessness

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