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The landscape of income and wealth inequality and housing affordability

The National Housing Conference is getting set to release the 2016 edition of “Housing Landscape.” For years, NHC’s Center for Housing Policy has released this analysis of the housing affordability challenges among the nation’s low- and moderate-income working households. Consistently, over the past several years, more than a quarter of all low- and moderate-income working renters have been severely cost burdened—that is, paying half or more of their income in rent. Millions of Americans go out to work each day, serving local communities and businesses, but earn too little to find housing they can afford in the communities in which they work.

NHC’s analysis of the incomes and housing costs of working households in the U.S. is particularly germane as the conversation around income and wealth inequality intensifies during this election year. Even working a full-time job, many workers continue to see stagnant wage growth and find it increasingly difficult to find affordable housing. According to our Paycheck to Paycheck tool, most moderate-wage workers in metro areas across the country cannot afford to rent the typical one-bedroom apartment. A mid-level graphic designer or urban planner in the San Francisco metro area doesn’t earn enough to afford a median-priced one-bedroom apartment. A one-bedroom apartment is too expensive for the typical e-commerce customer service representative or security guard in the Austin, Texas metro area. In the Raleigh area, school bus drivers and nursing aids must spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent to afford the typical one-bedroom home in the region. Unable to save for a down payment, homeownership likely feels out of the question for many of these working households.
Across the country, local jurisdictions are looking for ways to increase the supply of rental housing that is affordable to the workers who serve important roles in their communities. From inclusionary zoning policies to public land programsto regional housing trust funds, there is a tremendous amount of innovation happening at the local level designed to produce and preserve affordable rental housing.
But will it be enough to meet the needs of the workforce? And what happens when lower-income workers continue to spend a disproportionate amount of their incomes on housing and fall further behind on opportunities to gain wealth through homeownership?
Over the course of the year, research from NHC’s Center for Housing Policy will continue to analyze the relationships between income and wealth inequality and the availability and affordability of housing. Look for the release of this year’s “Housing Landscape” at the end of February.
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