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Study Finds Housing Affordability Remains Elusive as Home Prices Drop
Feb 24, 2011

Although home values have continued to fall over the past few years, housing affordability has significantly decreased for working owners and renters, according to an annual report released by the Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference. The report, titled Housing Landscape 2011, provides an in-depth look at housing affordability trends for working households between 2008 and 2009 focusing on the effects of employment, income and housing costs. According to the report, nearly one in four working households had a severe housing cost burden in 2009, spending more than half of its income on housing costs. Nationwide, some 10.5 million working households experienced a severe housing cost burden in 2009—an increase of nearly 600,000 households from the prior year. This increase occurred despite a drop of 1.1 million in the overall number of working households. “These findings will be surprising to many who have followed the nationwide decline in home prices,” said Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy. “Housing costs for existing homeowners have declined only slightly, while housing costs for working renters have actually gone up. Meanwhile, high unemployment and falling incomes have left low- and moderate-income families struggling to make ends meet.” "This report's findings serve as a reminder that falling home values have not solved the affordable housing crisis in America," said Maureen A. Friar, president and chief executive officer of the National Housing Conference. "Funding of vital affordable housing programs is still needed even during these tough economic times to ensure stability for America's working families." Housing Landscape 2011 details that housing affordability declined substantially for working renters across the country. Approximately one-fourth of working renters (24.5 percent) had a severe housing cost burden in 2009—a significant increase over the 22.1 percent with this problem in 2008. Housing affordability declined among homeowners as well. Some 21.2 percent of working homeowners had a severe housing cost burden in 2009, as compared with 20.1 percent in 2008. While severe housing cost burdens affect working households across the income spectrum examined in the report (up to 120 percent of the local area median income), they are most prevalent among the households with the lowest incomes. Four out of five working households with extremely low incomes (below 30 percent of the local area median) had a severe housing cost burden in 2009. Roughly 71 percent of working households with a severe housing cost burden in 2009 earned 50 percent or less of the area median income (AMI). Housing Landscape 2011 identified several factors as contributing to the decline in housing affordability, including an increase in rents, a reduction in the number of hours worked per week, and falling incomes. The report examines housing affordability trends for working households at the state level as well as for the 50 largest metropolitan areas. Between 2008 and 2009, the share of working households with a severe housing cost burden increased significantly in 25 states and decreased significantly in none. In addition, in five states, the share of severely cost-burdened working households both exceeded the national average and experienced a statistically significant increase between 2008 and 2009. These states were Arizona, California, Florida, New Jersey, and New York. Among the 50 largest metropolitan areas, the following five metropolitan areas had the highest share of working households with a severe housing cost burden in 2009: Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Fla. 42% Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif. 37% Orlando-Kissimmee, Fla.   35% Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.  35% San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif. 34% A closer look at the data reveals that the share of working households with a severe housing cost burden increased significantly in 16 of the largest metropolitan areas, yet decreased significantly in none. Of these 16 metro areas, 14 are located in the Midwest and the South. Overall, the level of severe housing cost burden amongst working households displayed a high level of variation at the metropolitan level. Levels ranged from a high of 42 percent in Miami to a low of 15 percent in Pittsburgh and Louisville. According to the report, a low- to moderate-income working household is defined as one in which (a) members combined to work at least 20 hours per week, on average, for the 12 months preceding the survey; and (b) total income was at or below 120 percent of its area median income for the survey year. For more information, visit
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