The research we do at NLIHC often demonstrates that the need for affordable rental housing is greatest among extremely low income (ELI) households, meaning those earning 30% or less of the area median income. The need for housing assistance far exceeds the current capacity of federal housing programs, which are only able to serve one in four families eligible for assistance. As a result, ELI households face a constant struggle to locate decent and affordable housing, and are vulnerable to housing insecurity and homelessness.

Today, new affordable housing units tend to get built using funding from three federal housing programs: Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC), HOME and the Affordable Housing Program of the Federal Home Loan Bank. Of these three programs, none are required by federal statute to target their resources towards the families that need housing the most: extremely low income households.

Who actually benefits from affordable housing programs that produce new housing units, such as LIHTC? The data are insufficient to draw conclusions, but it seems that ELI households require additional subsidies to afford the rents, and these very subsidies are in short supply. This fall, NLIHC embarked on a new, long-term project to investigate how ELI households are coping with the scarcity of affordable housing. The project examines the programs available to ELI households at both the national and state level, and the ability of ELI households to access federal and state housing assistance. The purpose of the project is to determine how housing resources can more effectively reach the lowest income households.

One component of this project is an update to Housing Assistance for Low Income Households, a Coalition report that tracks the status of state housing assistance programs. NLIHC released earlier iterations of this report in 2001 and 2008. The upcoming report, to be released in early 2013, will cover over a hundred programs across forty states and the District of Columbia that provide rental assistance. This fall, NLIHC staff reached out to administrators of state housing programs across the country, and gathered data on recent funding levels, number of households served and other key program characteristics and trends.

What have we found so far?  While the number of programs has remained stable nationwide, the budgets of many state housing assistance programs are shrinking due to tight state budgets. And, more and more programs have institutionalized stringent time restrictions and eligibility rules. As a result of these trends, fewer households are able to access assistance through state-funded programs. Meanwhile, federal programs remain many states’ sole source of ongoing rental assistance for extremely low income Americans.

In 2013, NLIHC will be expanding this research to focus on state-level development programs and city-funded housing assistance. If you’re interested in learning more about this work, contact NLIHC Research Analyst Elina Bravve at

How is your community dealing with the shrinking of housing resources? Let us know in the comments.