Archive for June 6th, 2011

6th June
2011
written by Catherine An

A hat tip to the National Low Income Housing Coalition for letting us know that the Joint Center on Housing Studies at Harvard University released the 2011 State of the Nation’s Housing report today.

I love this report. I started reading it last year and while the prospects never look good, the report is a wealth of information about the housing landscape as it affects all kinds of people.

This year was no different.

In good news, the rental market is growing rapidly. Some renters are waiting for the housing market to settle down before buying and some owners, having suffered the effects of the housing market over the last few hours, have come back into the rental market.

Housing vacancy rates are holding fairly steady (partly because of the number of previously-owned houses that have entered the rental market) but rents appear to be on the rise. Increases vary from market to market; JCHS reports that “in traditionally tight markets such as New York, San Jose, and Washington, DC, nominal rents climbed by more than 5 percent in 2010. In contrast, the average increase was just 1.7 percent in the West and 2.5 percent in the South.”

This is troubling news when contextualized by the fact that the supply of affordable housing is ever eroding. 12 percent of the low-cost rentals that existed in 1999 were gone by 2009, according to JCHS, meaning that one affordable and available unit existed for every 2.9 low-income renters in need of such a unit.

This leaves too many low-income households housing cost burdened. As we showed in the State of Homelessness in America, severe housing cost burden is one risk factor of homelessness and today’s report shows that well over one-third of US households is cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent. An unprecedented 19.4 million are severely housing cost burdened – spending more than half of their monthly income on rent. The report notes that the latter number climbed by 725,000 in 2009 alone.

The problem is manifold but two contributors stick out:

  1. Real incomes (also highlighted in SOH), have declined people in the bottom income quartile, and
  2. The supply of affordable, available rental housing units is diminishing.

I’m sure it goes without saying that people most vulnerable – including low-income families with children and minority communities – are hit hardest. The recession has turned many low-income families from two-income to one-income households and their situation is aggravated by the need to find safe, child-friendly, near-public school rental units. Inner city neighborhoods, often home to immigrant and racially diverse communities, have suffered hardest from the effects of the housing crisis.

Among the most notable things I noticed in this report was the overt mention of homelessness; the report referenced a finding in the last Annual Homeless Assessment report (authored by HUD): “although the incidence of chronic homelessness fell, the number of families with children that used homeless shelters at least once increased …from 2007 to 2009…”

Moreover, the outlook for federal assistance seemed as grim as some of the findings. Citing the economic and political climates, the report suggested that little could be expected in terms of federal assistance, even as need – especially among low-income families – continues to mount.

Which doesn’t mean that we should stop trying. As the Alliance has long proclaimed, access to affordable housing is the key in ending homelessness. If people can acquire housing they can afford, they can end their homelessness. By making this problem – and this clear solution – a national priority, we can end homelessness.

Let us know if you’ve read the report and what you think! Leave a comment here or find us on Facebook or Twitter.

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