This past week, NLIHC launched a new series of research briefs under the title Housing Spotlight.  Each issue will bring housing data to a broader audience in a format that highlights the meaning behind the numbers. We aim to bring you short, informative analyses on the most current data and NLIHC research as it is released, highlighting important trends relevant to affordable housing.

For our inaugural research brief, we illustrate the stresses on low income renters using data from the American Community Survey (ACS). There is much discussion about income inequality in the news today and our research brief highlights evidence from the ACS that demonstrates how the lowest income, most vulnerable households face undue burden in the housing market.

We find that hardship among renters is on the rise across all income groups. While the pace at which rents have increased slowed since 2007, rents continue to rise (from $824 in 2008 to $855 in 2010). Yet, while the rents keep inching up year after year, renters themselves have suffered setbacks.  Renter households were earning $31,891 in 2008. By 2010, their median income fell to $30,691. As a result of these two trends, renters are facing an increasing cost burden. By 2010, 53% of all renters faced a cost burden.

While housing affordability problems are affecting all renters, the lowest income groups are the most likely to face a housing cost burden. Among the pool of cost burdened renters, we know that about 83% earn less than $35,000. And, while very few renters earning above $75,000 face a housing cost burden, nearly all renters earning below $20,000 each year are burdened. NLIHC’s first Housing Spotlight illustrates that housing problems are not equally distributed among renters , the poorest households are facing the greatest obstacles to finding decent housing, and the Great Recession seems to be widening the divide.

The next issue of Housing Spotlight will dig into the latest data on the shortage of affordable and available units to low income households.  Future issues will discuss renters in foreclosure and the characteristics of the nation’s subsidized housing stock. Housing Spotlight will be provided first to NLIHC members as a member benefit. Want to be the first to receive Housing Spotlight? Join us!