How the Poor Are Squeezed Out of the Most Affordable Housing

A worsening trend that spans four decades.

Image
Reuters

Back in 1970, America actually had more affordable housing for the poor than poor people who needed it (this is a recurring theme this week: you were way better off teetering on the edge of poverty in America 40 years ago). Over time, that surplus dwindled. Then it turned into an affordable-housing shortage. And then the shortage grew, pushing more and more people at the bottom rung of the housing market out of housing all together.

This chart, from a new report by Tracey Ross at the Center for American Progress, shows the growing historic gap between the need in America for housing as cheap as $450 a month and the supply of such places:

Center for American Progress

As a result, it's estimated that about half of the homeless in the U.S. today work in some form. The problem is that their income doesn't cover housing.

In part, what's happened is that families who used to be middle-class are increasingly looking for cheaper affordable rental housing, crowding out the most low-income from the units they have the best chance of affording. Housing aid also hasn't kept pace with the size of the population that needs it. Today, only one in four households eligible for a rental subsidy is able to get one.

That above chart is based on an earlier analysis from the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, which provides a clearer picture of why the shortage has been growing. The real issue is not that there's less affordable housing today for the poor than there used to be; it's that there are many more poor to speak of:

ICPH

Top image: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.