News Round-Up: The Affordable Housing Shortage, Explained

Sequestration is already having a clear impact on low income renters across the U.S. As Fox 5 DC reported, the DC Housing Authority is already making tough choices to balance the cuts required by sequestration with the agency’s mission to house the lowest income residents of DC. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the housing agency in that city is in the process of cancelling vouchers recently issued to low income families, taking away vouchers from households that had not already found an apartment during the period allowed.

While sequestration will reduce the amount of affordable rental housing made available by the federal government, market conditions are the cause of the majority of the existing housing shortage. Affordable Housing Finance explains that severe housing cost burden- where low income renters pay 50% or more of their income for rent- is a problem in every state in the nation. As Progress Illinois explains, many in that state pay more than half their income for rent, leaving little left for other necessities like food or medical care.

The Washington Examiner takes us back to the nation’s capitol with a video on what the rental housing shortage means for those who are trying to escape homelessness. An article in the Stamford Advocate shows the struggle both low and moderate income households go through when attempting to rent in America’s highest-cost cities.

How to Use NLIHC’s New Congressional District Profiles

This past week, NLIHC updated our Congressional District Profiles. The profiles are an important tool for housing advocacy, updated throughout the year as new data becomes available. The most recent update incorporates newly available five-year Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) data. This update also reorganized the profiles, making it even easier to find the data relevant to your congressional district, and to compare housing needs across different income groups.

Advocates can use the profiles when meeting with Congressional staffers in a local district office or on Capitol Hill, to describe the extent to which additional affordable rental housing is needed locally.

When you meet with your Member of Congress or Member’s staff to discuss the need for affordable housing units, you can open the discussion by citing the number of severely burdened, extremely low income households living in your district.

For example, if you are a resident of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, you can point out that over 38,000 extremely low income households live in the area. Among these households, 22,572 households (59%) face a severe housing cost burden. This means they pay over 50% of their income towards rent. Access to affordable housing would alleviate that burden for these families, allowing them to cover other bills and expenses, including healthcare, child care and transportation.

The Congressional District Profiles demonstrate that extremely low income households consistently face a severe housing cost burden, in large part because the poorest households in most districts have the fewest rental units affordable and available to them.

As the profile for the 5th District indicates, that community has an immediate need for about 24,000 additional housing units to serve ELI households. Advocates should explain to Members and their staff that the National Housing Trust Fund is a solution to this housing shortage. The trust fund will directly address this demand for rental housing by providing additional resources towards expanding the supply of affordable housing in the district.

We hope housing advocates across the country find the profiles to be a useful advocacy tool. For more information on using the profiles or suggestions for when and how to weigh in with your Members of Congress, contact our outreach team at

Putting the Spotlight on Housing Problems in the Great Recession

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!