Growing need and public support for changes in affordable housing

April 5, 2019
by Mackenzie Aime, Emerson Hunger Fellow

Access to safe affordable housing is crucial. Not only is it a basic human need, but research shows that when people are able to secure high quality homes, it leads to a host of other benefits. These include improved child health, increased likelihood of children attending college, and improved mental and physical health for adults.

Each year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition puts out The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes report about the current state of affordable housing. This year’s report highlights the lack of affordable housing in the U.S., how this shortage impacts communities, and what advocates can do to close the gap. The report found:

  • There are currently only 37 affordable homes for every 100 extremely low-income households. Households with incomes either below the poverty line or at 30 percent of the average income for the area (whichever is higher) make up “extremely low income households.”
  • Nevada, California, and Arizona have the largest affordable home shortages.
  • Seventy percent of low-income workers spend more than 50 percent of their household income on housing.
  • People of color are more likely to be extremely low-income renters.
  • Senior renters and renters with special needs are “more likely than other renters to have extremely low-incomes.”
  • To afford a modest 1-bedroom apartment a worker would need to make $17.90 per hour.
  • Those who are late on their rent are more likely to experience worse health outcomes for themselves and their children, a higher risk of food insecurity, low birth weights and higher rates of premature births.

The data is available by state on the NLIHC website. It shows that too often, low-income individuals are forced to pay a majority of their income for housing. There is a great need for change.

The geographical location of a potential home is also a key element of the housing crisis. In a recent report, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) notes that 40 percent of all families with children using Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) living in metropolitan areas (where the majority of voucher assisted people live) are located in low-opportunity neighborhoods. These are the neighborhoods that often have lower resourced schools, higher poverty rates, lack of access to jobs, poor food accessibility, and minimal public transit. Yet, only 21 percent of all voucher-affordable homes are located in these same areas.

This means that many families using HCVs are concentrated in areas with poor access to essential resources. Once families are given housing choice vouchers—which have notoriously long waitlists—the neighborhoods they live in often serve as yet another barrier to success. CBPP breaks down usage of HCVs across 50 Metropolitan areas through an interactive map, adjustable table, and hard numbers.

The cost of housing for different population groups is another component necessary for understanding the affordability crisis. Each year Prosperity Now publishes a scorecard that accounts for 1) the state policies that help people access housing and 2) the housing outcomes in each state. The scorecard analyzes housing cost burdened households by race at the state level. The states with the highest percentage of housing cost burdened households of color include: Florida, Louisiana, Wyoming, California, and New York. In each of these states about 3 in 5 households of color are housing cost burdened. The states with the lowest rates don’t fare much better. These lowest ranked states still have about 2 in 5 households of color qualifying as cost burdened.

These rates do not compare to the housing cost burden between households of color and white households. Our nation’s capital, Washington DC has the largest disparity in rates of housing cost burdened households. Whites are cost burdened at a rate twenty percent lower than households of color. Closely following DC is Wyoming, Louisiana, New York, and Missouri where households of color have much higher rates of being housing cost burdened than white households. In these states, a larger percentage of households of color are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, leaving less money to spend on needs like healthcare and food. This disparity further enforces that the affordable housing crisis is part of the larger web of racial disparities in the U.S.  

There is growing public support for changes to housing policy. A recent Opportunity Starts at Home poll demonstrates that an overwhelming amount of people feel that affordable housing is at a tipping point. Nearly 90 percent of those polled felt that paying more than 50 percent of one’s income toward housing is a big problem, demonstrating public concern for the housing crisis.

Fortunately, the NLIHC report notes various potential solutions to the crisis. Some of these solutions are to expand the tax credits that incentivize companies to build new affordable housing, increase funding for housing choice vouchers, and create a fully-refundable renters tax credit for cost-burdened renters (renters tax credit legislation has been proposed by both Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker). These solutions are not unattainable. The Opportunity at Home poll shows that government action on housing is supported across the political spectrum, which is important for bipartisan change to become a reality.

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