The Solution

Home is the foundation. How do we ensure that every American has an affordable one? Watch the video to find out.

Affordable Housing Scarcity: How Can Communities Cope?

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 Elina@nlihc.org.

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

News Round-Up: Strapped for Cash

Farmworkers are essential to maintaining a functioning economy in areas where agriculture is an important industry. But often, agricultural workers’ wages are so low that they are unable to afford housing in their communities. This report from Ventura County, California shows the impact of low wages and high rents on farmworker families, like extreme overcrowding and impacts on the ability of children to learn.

Farmworker housing advocates in Ventura are raising money to support the development of more housing affordable to agricultural workers and their families. But according to NLIHC President and CEO Sheila Crowley in an interview (subscription required), relying exclusively on local funding for housing results in an inequitable situation.

“There are some local communities which are very wealthy that have an economic base that would allow them to be able to come up with these kinds of programs and pay for them,” Crowley said. “But by and large, local governments are really strapped for cash, and they have enormous obligations, in particular education. So the notion that there will be extra money floating around to do these kinds of things seems highly unlikely.”

While many cities and service providers feel federal block grants, like HOME and CDBG, provide necessary funding for local projects, some in the House of Representatives attempted to limit or eliminate those programs, favoring the exclusive use of local funds.