More Doubling Up In Housing, Especially By Families

I recently wrote that we’ve no idea how many people are living doubled up with friends or relatives. Still true for the District of Columbia, but not for the nation as a whole.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness has issued a brief on doubling up during the 2005-8 period. Doubling up here means “living in a housing unit with extended family, friends or other non-relatives due to economic hardship,” which NAEH defines as “earning no more than 125% of the federal poverty level.” In 2008, that meant a maximum of $13,000 for a single individual and $22,000 for a family of three.

We learn some interesting things. For example, in 2008:

  • More than 4.8 million low-income people were living doubled up–5% more than in 2005.
  • Nearly three-quarters of them had incomes below the federal poverty line.
  • A third of them were in deep poverty, i.e., living at least 50% below the FPL.
  • The percent of doubled-up people who were in families had increased by 8.5%, to somewhat over 2.1 million.
  • Yet the percent of families doubled-up had increased by 3.5%–to just under 800,000. So it would seem that more family members were living together doubled up.
  • While more single individuals than families were living doubled up, the percent increase for individuals was much smaller–less than 2%.

Doubling up is certainly preferable to living on the street or in an emergency shelter. But, as NAEH says, it’s often a prelude to literal homelessness.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report for 2008, 25.8% of single individuals and 42.3% of families who weren’t homeless before they entered a shelter or transitional housing had stayed the night before with family or friends.

Perhaps the family member or friend had agreed to house them for only a night or two. Perhaps accommodating them had become too inconvenient. Perhaps frictions arose, as they can among any people living together. Perhaps everybody got evicted.

We see some of these risks of homelessness in other NAEH figures.

  • In 2008, more than 1.7 million doubled-up people (34.6%) were in households with severe housing burdens, i.e. paying 50% or more of their income for rent.
  • Of these people, 22%–somewhat over 1.3 million–were living in over-crowded conditions.
  • Both the number with severe housing burdens and the number in over-crowded conditions were higher in 2008 than in 2005.

What I would guess these figures reflect are the combined impacts of the onset of the recession and the accelerating shortage of affordable rental housing for low-income people. If so, then we would expect more recent figures to be worse.

Last year’s HEARTH Act, which reauthorized homeless programs administered by HUD, expanded the definition of “homeless” to some doubled-up families. The NAEH brief says that communities “will now serve them through their homeless assistance programs.”

Don’t we wish. Here in the District, the homeless services program seems unable to cope even with all the families who’ve got no place to live at all. And with budget-slashing across the country, I doubt many other programs are ready to take on more.

3 Responses to More Doubling Up In Housing, Especially By Families

  1. […] About 20% of single-mother families were living doubled up with friends or relatives — often a precursor to literal homelessness. […]

  2. […] About 20% of single-mother families were living doubled up with friends or relatives — often a precursor to literal homelessness. […]

  3. Mark Stamey says:


    I hope this finds you enjoying good health and fortune.

    I studied poverty and the process of attrition extensively.

    I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degrees from Columbia and S.U.N.Y. Stony Brook concentrating on destitution. I was director of field work at a research institute at Stony Brook that focused on intractable poverty.

    I interviewed hundreds of un domiciled people in abandoned buildings, (Bronx) tunnels (Manhattan) suburban and arboreal areas and published my findings in research journals.

    When I first published in the ’80s (“Hidden Homelessness” and “Consumption Behaviors of Destitute People”) and presented papers in Washington D.C. and Atlanta, Ga., the word, “Homeless” was not part of the lexicon of poverty researchers.

    I concentrated on finding hidden manifestations of poverty.

    For example, I used the structural monotony of tract housing (Levittown type) that had been modified as an indicator of “doubling up” or sub dividing of formerly single family homes. I found several electrical meters feeding one home – meaning more than one family (who were living there) had electric service.

    I developed several other unique methods to find subjects.

    Of course, I explored many viable solutions to help relieve the various problems impoverished people suffer.

    I have since retired after a career as a reporter for The New York Times and The Post in New York city.

    As a journalist, I found many other people living in highly improbable places (including a cave in Manhattan – “The Cave Man of Manhattan” a front page story), sewers, bridge abutments, cemeteries, and other opportunistic situations.

    I have hundreds of photographs of the manifestations of destitution and the immiseration of the “middle class”.

    I regret that my forecasts are being actualized.

    If I can be of any assistance to your organization, please let me know.

    Otherwise, persevere and prevail.

    Thank you

    Mark Stamey

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