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Census Data Finds: Most Renters Live in Unaffordable Housing
Sep 29, 2010

A majority of U.S. renters lived in unaffordable housing in 2009, according to new data from the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Sept. 28, the result of a continuing rise in rents and a loss of affordable housing on the one hand and a decline in incomes on the other. This trend has hit the lowest income renters the hardest. The data also point to rising demand for renting and away from homeownership, and describe other housing trends. The total number of all renters experiencing a housing cost burden, defined as spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities, increased to 18.5 million from 17.4 million in 2008. This translates to more than half, 51.6 percent, of all renter households facing a housing cost burden, up from 50 percent in 2008. Median rents rose from $818 in 2008 to $842 in 2009, while median renter incomes decreased from $31,891 to $30,576. All income groups except those earning $100,000 or more saw an increase in housing cost burden since 2008. Housing cost burdens continued to disproportionately impact low income renters, however, with 88 percent of those earning $20,000 or less and 53 percent of those earning $20,000 to $49,999 facing such a burden. At the same time, the number of renters continued to increase, while the homeownership rate decreased. Confirming what has been seen in other surveys, the ACS shows the homeownership rate declined to 65.9 percent in 2009 from 67.3 percent in 2006, while the percentage of families renting increased to 34.1 percent, from 32.7 percent in 2006. The proportion of households in America that are renting has increased every year since 2006. Families also appear to be coping with declining incomes and rising rents by doubling up with extended family members or other roommates. While the average household size of owner-occupied units in the United States has not increased appreciably, among renters the average household size has increased significantly from 2.4 to 2.5. In general, the number of households with more than one person per room has increased to 3.2 percent, from 3.1 percent in 2008. Also the number and proportion of multigenerational households appears to have increased by more than 200,000, rising from 3.4 percent to 3.6 percent of all households in the last year.  “The numbers from the most recent ACS are not too surprising given the high unemployment rates and rising rents across the country,” said NLIHC Research Director Danilo Pelletiere. “We expected to see another year of increases in the number of households struggling to stay in their homes and make ends meet, but what is unfortunate is that Congress has yet to take the necessary action to provide more affordable rental housing options to low income Americans in these difficult times.” The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) continues to call on Congress to address the shortage of housing affordable to people with the lowest incomes by providing $1.065 billion to fund the National Housing Trust Fund and associated housing vouchers. The National Housing Trust Fund, which would provide communities with funds to build, rehabilitate and preserve homes, was established in 2008 but has not yet been funded. Additional finding in the study include: ►The number of renters experiencing severe housing cost burdens, defined as spending more than half of their income on rent and utilities, also increased, from 8.8 million renter households (25.1 percent) in 2008 to 9.5 million renter households (26.4 percent). ►In the past year, the proportion of rental units renting for less than $750 declined significantly (from 42.8 percent to 40.4 percent) while the number of units offered for more than $1,000 increased significantly (from 33.2 percent to 35.4 percent). ►Vacancy rates have increased since 2008 among all housing units, from 12.4 percent to 12.6 percent and for rental units from 7.9 percent to 8.4 percent, but decreased for homeownership units from 2.7 percent to 2.5 percent, as owners moved vacant units from being for-sale to for-rent. ►The proportion of homeowner households with a mortgage spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing fell slightly from 2008 to 2009, from 37.8 percent to 37.7 percent. While this is likely due in part to falling interest rates and lower home prices for buyers, also contributing is the fact that three years into the housing bust the most financially distressed homeowners are more likely to have suffered a foreclosure or for other reasons no longer own their homes. The American Community Survey (ACS) is an annual survey of approximately three million households that provides recent information on the characteristics of Americans and their households, including on the cost of homes and the ability of Americans to afford them. Data are published in the fall and winter the year after they have been collected. The Census Bureau has introduced a series of briefs based on the 2009 ACS data that highlight certain economic characteristics of the country. For more information, visit
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