Maps

Mapping America's Appalling Affordable Housing Deficit

A new report finds that only 31 cheap rental units are available per 100 poor households in the U.S.

Every single county in the U.S. lacks affordable housing, and in no state can someone earning a minimum wage salary rent a two-bedroom apartment at market rate. A new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition paints a fresh, grim picture of this ongoing affordable housing crisis.

Using 2014 American Community Survey data, the report’s authors calculated the number of units families earning below 30 percent of the median income in their areas could rent comfortably, without devoting more than 30 percent of their income towards housing. Their count included units that were vacant, as well as those that were occupied by households in the income bracket defined above (called “Extremely Low Income” or ELI families in the report).

Overall, the report found that only 31 such units existed for every set of 100 poor families in the U.S. And this deficit increased as families got poorer (only 17 affordable units were available per 100 families in the bottom 15 percent, for example)—and turned into a surplus for those at the higher end of the income ladder.

These findings reveal “an alarming reality about housing for extremely low income households,” Andrew Aurand, vice president research at NLIHC said in press release. “Millions of people in America are living in unaffordable rental homes. They are forced to cut their spending on food, transportation, and health to pay rent.”

But the national deficit—appalling as it is—masks even more dire housing gaps in several states. To help visualize each state’s shortfall, the NLIHC has created this map:

In total, 20 states fared worse than the national average. Nevada offered the fewest units at 17 for every batch of 100 extremely low income households. Alaska, California, and Florida followed with 21/100 units, and then came Florida and Oregon with 22/100. Among metros, Orlando and Las Vegas were at the bottom, each offering only 15 affordable units. Overall, no state contained more than 64 units per 100 poor families, and no metro had more than 46.

One straightforward fix for this problem would be to create more affordable housing to meet the incredible demand. And as my colleague Kriston Capps has written, there’s a moral and economic argument in favor of that option. The folks at NLIHC also highlight some economic benefits in the report’s conclusion:

Expanding the supply of affordable rental housing allows [Extremely Low Income] households to move out of their unaffordable housing, making these units available to other income groups. Simply put, federal housing policy that targets the most critical housing needs will produce net benefits for everyone.

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.