Affordable Housing Crisis Worsens for Low-Income Households

A new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition reminds us that the housing crisis is nothing new for low-income renters. As early as 2005, very low-income households, except for those with housing assistance, were paying, on average, 82% of their income for rent.

But if the affordable housing crisis isn’t new, it’s certainly worse. An estimated 40% of households displaced by foreclosures have been renters. They’re now competing for affordable units with former homeowners. Yet, before the end of 2007, the market was already short 2.8 million units that low-income renters could afford.

What does this mean for low-income families? NLIHC answers this question by calculating the amount a household would have to earn to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment, plus basic utilities. In other words, how much would an individual or family have to earn for the fair market rent that HUD assigns the apartment to constitute no more than 30% of their income?

We may know that affordable housing is a problem, but the figures NLIHC reports are eye-opening. Nationwide:

  • There’s no state where a minimum wage earner can afford the two-bedroom apartment–or, for that matter, a one-bedroom unit.
  • In 30 states, more than two full-time minimum wage jobs would be required to afford the two-bedroom unit.
  • In 15 states, the fair market rent for an efficiency is greater than the entire amount very low-income elderly and disabled individuals receive in Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

And here are what I guess I should call the lowlights for the District of Columbia:

  • Since 2000, the hourly wage a household would have to earn to afford the two-bedroom apartment has increased 51%.
  • Today, the household would have to earn $24.77 per hour, assuming full-time, year-round employment–or about 3.3 times the minimum wage.
  • For extremely low-income households, i.e., those whose 2008 incomes were $29,7000 or less, the two-bedroom apartment costs about 40% more than they can afford.
  • The gap between the cost of the apartment and what individuals who rely on SSI can afford is $1,086 per month–about 1.6 times the total maximum SSI benefit.

Yet, as the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports, the proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget for the District would cut local funding for affordable housing by an additional $11 million. That would mean $45 million less than the amount originally approved for this fiscal year.

Could the District balance the budget without giving short shrift to the affordable housing crisis? DCFPI apparently thinks so. Happily, at least one City Council committee agrees. More about this in another posting.

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3 Responses to Affordable Housing Crisis Worsens for Low-Income Households

  1. […] numbers of households are paying far more for rent than they can afford. As I recently wrote, figures from the National Low Income Housing Coalition show that this was a major problem even […]

  2. Zenovia Carter says:

    Dear Ms. Baer: you are sooo right. I am a female Gulf War Veteran, that after years of employ, and head of household for many years. I fell abruptly on hard times over night. at the age of 42, I lost my job due to illness, and to my surprise, I was not only sick and unemployed but pregnant at 42, and bed rest for 5 months in order to save my baby. My husband of 13 years just abruptly packed a Uhaul truck one day when I was out with the baby, and abandoned me and the baby once he turned 1 yr. old. Leaving me with 10 dollars to my name and cleaned out the bank account. he left to destination unknown. later I found out throught research that he was in the state on NY.
    now I was sick, with a baby,pennyless, and a house mortgage. I was a hairline fracture from becoming a statistic, we lost our home. I believed that if I had not worked hard for assistance, I would indeed be living out of a large appliance box with my son.
    Got the VA assistance Voucher program, they work in conjunction with Columbia housing authority. this is going to be my third yr. in the program. I am disabled and with a 3yr old baby. I read your article and honestly sometimes I wonder if I would have been better off in a large appliance box under a bridge. hiding out from child protective services. The Red tape that one goes thru is incredible, and very stressfull. The way they calculate their figures in regards to the portion of the rental that one must pay.. just baffles my mind. I am living in a 3 bedroom home presently,and trying to move out of this home for a lower rental in order to save some money to get back on my feet. and did you know that moving to a smaller place.., no storage, and a tiny 2 bedroom,… Housing auth. is saying that my portion of the rent is going to be higher. how can that be possible. I was trying to move forward. but with what they are quoting me for my portion, I might as well, get rid of my car, walk or use a wheel chair to get from point A to B, and not eat, buy diapers and child necesities and still live out of a large appliance box. just not to wig out with the stress of the last minute wait and see. and that is the reason… that as we drive sometimes we see the people that are living either on the streets or in the woods. I used to wonder how they got to that point, but without judgement. Now I truly understand how easy it is to just give up, and say.. “to “h” with the system. It is a lot to handle. but I am still fighting hard for my sons sake, but if it were not for him, I would have retreated to the woods along with all the other disabled Vets that served their country proudly. most times, I feel so alone, under-estimated for my mental capabilities,and desilusioned by a system. that moves you backward to the point of giving up instead of forward for betterment.

  3. Kathryn Baer says:

    What a moving story, Zenovia. And so distressing. Thank you for sharing it. I think only someone who’s tried to deal with “the system” can tell us what it’s really like. You deserve much better. So do all those people you write about who are on the streets or holed up in the woods.

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