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Lack of cash or lack of supply?

August 28, 2002

Report suggests some affordability problems may be income problems, not housing problems

Inman News Features

The United States is among the best-housed nations in the world, but affordable housing remains a problem for low-income Americans in many, if not most, housing markets in the country, according to a new research report.

Despite the economic expansion of the late 1990s, there has been little change in the housing affordability problems since 1989, according to the report released by the National Multi Housing Council. The data suggests that, in some cases, affordability problems may be "income problems" and not "housing problems."

The report found that 26 percent of all apartment renters, or 3.8 million people, received some sort of federal housing assistance in 1999. Of the 74 percent of unassisted apartment renters, 23 percent, or 2.3 million, were "moderately rent burdened," and 19 percent, or 1.9 million, were "severely rent burdened."

Most severe rent burdens were found at the lower end of the income distribution, according to the report. Ninety percent of renters with severe rent burdens were very-low income households, and more than half of all apartment renters with very-low incomes are severely rent burdened.

Moderate rent burdens were more widespread, according to the report. Forty-seven percent of moderately burdened households had very-low incomes, while another 39 percent were low-income and 11 percent were moderate-income.

The study also examined how the nation's record economic expansion of the 1990s changed the affordability picture and found little difference in affordability between 1991 and 1997, but some improvement from 1997 to 1999. The number of low-income and moderate-income renters with severe burdens in 1999 was higher than in previous years, suggesting that in some areas, at least, severe housing burdens were a problem for more than just very low-income households.

A household is considered "severely burdened" if it pays more than 50 percent of its income to rent and utilities, according to NMHC. It is considered "moderately burdened" if it pays 30-50 percent of its income to rent and utilities.

Washington, D.C.-based NMHC is a national association that represents the interests of the larger and most prominent apartment companies in the United States.

Copyright: Inman News Service

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