Urban Institute

A new report reveals that zero counties in the U.S. have enough housing for families in extreme poverty.

From Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine. From Jacksonville to Juneau. No matter where you look, there isn’t enough affordable housing.

Without exception, there is no county in the U.S. that has enough affordable housing. The crisis is national and it is growing. Since 2000, rents across the nation have increased. So has the number of of families who desperately need affordable housing.

New research from the Urban Institute shows that the supply of housing for extremely low-income families, which was already in short supply, is only declining. In 2013, just 28 of every 100 extremely low-income families could afford their rental homes. Than figure is down from 37 of 100 in 2000—a 25 percent decline over a little more than a decade.

Using data from the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, researchers built an interactive map to illustrate the nationwide reach of the problem. In no county in the U.S. does the supply of affordable housing meet the demand among extremely low-income households. (Families who made no more than 30 percent of an area’s median household income were considered “extremely low income.”)

A closer look at affordable-housing access for the extremely poor in Travis County. (Urban Institute)

In Travis County, Texas, for example, the extremely low-income cutoff for a family of four is $21,950. There are about 7,000 safe, affordable rental units to meet the needs of these poor Austin families. But there are more than 48,000 extremely low-income families living there.

The Urban Institute’s research shows how the number of extremely low-income households around the nation has grown since 2000. At the same time, federal housing-assistance programs have grown, but not nearly enough to keep up with need. The difference in the availability of affordable housing between 2000 and 2013 is immediately apparent from the maps, especially in states in the South (namely Alabama, Kentucky, and South Carolina), the Midwest (Ohio and Illinois), and the West (Nevada).

Side-by-side heat maps that show the availability of affordable housing in 2000 (left) and in 2013 (right). (Urban Institute)

Strike federal support from the map—as many members of Congress might like to do—and the picture grows considerably bleaker. Extremely low-income households increasingly rely on assistance from HUD: More than 80 percent of affordable rental homes for extremely low-income families are provided through assistance from HUD. (This figure is surging: It was 57 percent of households in 2000.)

The Urban Institute’s interactive map shows just what a dire situation the nation would face without federal housing assistance. In Pulaski County, Arkansas, for example, some 15,000 families met the criteria for extremely low income in 2013 (earning no more than $18,650 for a family of four). Without federal assistance, none of these poor families in Little Rock would have access to affordable housing: zero. As it stands, only 24 extremely low-income families out of every 100 can find safe, affordable rental housing in Little Rock.

Heat map for the availability of affordable housing in 2013 minus federal assistance. (Urban Institute)

Suffolk County in Massachusetts does the best at meeting the housing needs of its poorest residents, according to the complete report from the Urban Institute; it leads the 100 U.S. counties with the largest populations in its affordable-housing supply. But the situation in Boston isn’t exactly cheery: Only 51 extremely low-income families out of every 100 are able to access safe and affordable rental housing.

At the other end of the spectrum, the situation is bleak. Denton County (in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area) can only muster 8 affordable rental units for every 100 extremely low-income families.

The number of renters receiving federal assistance (in particular through the Housing Choice Voucher program) is rising. Yet it’s just not rising as fast as demand. For the nation’s poorest and vulnerable households, the alternatives are unsafe housing, exploitation, overcrowding, and homelessness. The crisis is most dramatic in cities in the South and West, but there is no place in the nation that it does not touch. It’s not just an economic crisis, but a moral one as well.

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