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Housing affordability improves slightly, but challenges remain for working renters and people of color

In Housing Landscape 2015, the National Housing Conference’s Center for Housing Policy examines trends in housing affordability for low- to moderate-income working families throughout the United States. Using the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey data, we observed that while the share of households with severe housing cost burden—that is, spending more than half a household’s gross monthly income on housing costs—decreased overall from 2010, housing affordability remains a significant issue for working households, particularly for renters.  From 2010 to 2013, the share of working renter households with a severe housing cost burden decreased slightly from 25.6 percent to 25.0 percent. However, the number of severely cost-burdened working renter households grew by more than 175,000 from 2010, when there were 5.9 million severely housing cost-burdened working renter households.

Percentage of working households with a severe housing cost burden
According to our analysis, the share of working renter households with severe housing cost burdens in 2013 was 25 percent, notably higher than the 17 percent of severely cost-burdened working households who own their homes. Additionally, median monthly housing costs for renters are steadily increasing while ownership costs are falling. In 2010, the difference in median monthly housing costs between owners and renters was $207. In 2013, the difference had shrunk to $91.
A rise in median income for working households—both owners and renters—has helped to lessen the share of households with severe housing cost burden. But it is important to note that housing affordability remains a challenge: in 2013, more than 15 percent of all U.S. households were severely housing cost burdened and the percentage for working households was even higher, at more than 21 percent.
This year’s report also examines housing affordability by race/ethnicity for the first time. We found that working households headed by non-white individuals are more likely to be severely cost burdened than their white counterparts. In 2013, the share of white-headed working households with a severe housing cost burden was 18.4 percent, compared to about one in four African-American- and Hispanic-headed working households.  The percentage of severely housing cost-burdened working households is highest among Asian- or Pacific Islander-headed households, at more than 28 percent.
Coming from a background of direct practice social work with chronically homeless families, working on Housing Landscape was a thought-provoking experience for me. Many of the families with whom I worked in Salt Lake City were working-class, and the Census Bureau’s data echoes what was apparent in these families’ experiences: Rents continue to rise and low- to moderate-income workers struggle to afford adequate housing.
To me, one of the more surprising findings in the data was how the gap between the median costs of homeownership and renting for working households is shrinking so dramatically. It seems intuitive to me that renting is becoming more expensive as the rental market absorbs more people who no longer own homes. But I was not aware of the extent to which the costs of homeownership are declining for low- to moderate-income working households. I am interested to find out if the narrowing cost difference between owning and renting leads to increased opportunities for renters to become homeowners, and if so, how that might affect families’ economic wellbeing.
For many more detailed results, read the full report here.
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