Today, the National Low Income Housing Coalition publishes our annual analysis of recent data, and the results are stark.
Our country is in the grips of a severe and pervasive housing affordability crisis. Nationally, there is a shortage of 7 million homes affordable and available to the lowest-income renters. Rents have risen faster than renters’ incomes over the last two decades, and while more people are renting than ever, the supply of housing has lagged. Fewer than four affordable and available rental homes exist for every 10 deeply poor renter households nationwide. As a result, record-breaking numbers of families cannot afford decent homes.
The budget recently proposed by the Trump Administration would compound this crisis. As we pointed out in our public response to the budget proposal, the president would underfund rental assistance through the Housing Choice Voucher program, eliminate the national Housing Trust Fund and funding needed to repair public housing, and raise rents—by as much as three times current levels—on America’s poorest families. While the administration suggests its proposed budget would provide an increase in funding to the voucher program, this is simply false.
Our report shows that no state has an adequate supply of homes affordable and available to its lowest-income renters. The shortage ranges from least severe (fewer than seven affordable and available rental homes for every 10 of the lowest-income renters in Wyoming) to most severe (fewer than two for every 10 of Nevada’s lowest-income renters).
As a result of the shortage, 11 million renter households are severely housing cost-burdened, paying more than half of their limited incomes on rent. The vast majority of them have extremely low incomes, and most are seniors, people with disabilities, or people in the low-wage labor force. With more than half of their limited incomes going to keep roofs over their heads, they are forced to make impossible choices between paying rent and buying groceries, seeing a doctor, or saving for college or a rainy day.
As housing becomes less affordable to the lowest-income people, homelessness increases in cities across the nation. Today’s modern phenomenon of homelessness—shelters, tent cities, parking lots of RVs with hundreds of people, including children—did not exist decades ago when our country housed almost everyone, including the lowest-income and most vulnerable families. In the late 1970s, our country even had a modest surplus of affordable homes for the lowest-income people.
The primary difference between then and now: federal investments. Adjusting for inflation, the federal budget authority for housing assistance programs 50 years ago was nearly three times more than it is today, despite the significant growth in the number of low-income renters eligible for housing assistance. Because of decades of funding cuts and arbitrary budget caps, three out of four families eligible for housing assistance are denied any help. These families add their names to years-long, sometimes decades-long, waiting lists, hoping to win a housing lottery where only the lucky 25 percent get the help they need.
The public is looking to the White House and Congress for solutions. NLIHC co-leads the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign, a coalition of nearly 100 leading national organizations from a wide range of fields, including education, health, mental health, anti-hunger, anti-poverty, faith-based, social work, civil rights, criminal justice and city government. The campaign calls for major federal investments in the national Housing Trust Fund to increase the affordable housing supply, in rental assistance through vouchers or a tax credit, and in emergency cash assistance for housing stability and homelessness prevention.
We are not alone in our call to action. According to the results of a forthcoming public opinion poll we commissioned, the vast majority of Americans (85 percent) believe that ensuring everyone has a safe, decent, affordable place to live should be a “top national priority.” Eight in ten Americans (82 percent) want elected leaders to address housing affordability and nine in ten think we should do more to prevent homelessness. Eighty percent believe that Congress should “take major action” to make housing more affordable for low-income people.
The overwhelming support for these solutions is clear, as is the extraordinary need. Inaction is expensive—through avoidable health care costs, lost work-productivity, decreased educational attainment, lowered tax revenue—and the effect housing poverty has on struggling families and communities is severe. Rather than helping to solve this crisis, President Trump’s budget is a step backwards. It would impose punitive measures ostensibly to “increase family self-sufficiency” yet instead it would jeopardize family stability by compounding the financial burdens they face through higher rents and harmful work requirements that often push families deeper into poverty.
Americans overwhelmingly support concrete solutions and increased investments: the poll found that 86 percent favor expanding investments in housing development programs that build more units affordable for the lowest-income people and 82 percent favor expanding funding for rental assistance to ensure that the everyone eligible for and in need of rental assistance receives it. Nearly nine in 10 Americans believe we should provide emergency crisis assistance for households with the lowest incomes to help cover the rent if they experience an unexpected economic hardship, such as losing a job or a medical emergency not covered by insurance. Emergency assistance will help avoid eviction and the spiraling down into poverty that results.
Leaders in Congress—some of whom are also on the presidential campaign trail—are responding to the need by introducing bold, ambitious, and much-needed housing bills, the likes of which we haven’t seen in generations.
We can end homelessness and housing poverty: We have the data, the solutions, the public support and, as a country, the resources. A major federal reinvestment in solutions to make homes affordable for the lowest-income people is long overdue. We lack only the political will to fund the solutions at the scale necessary. It is time to act.