Results of the 2009 American Community Survey (ACS) were released by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 28, providing information on the nation’s population and its housing stock. Data show that more than half of U.S. renters lived in unaffordable housing in 2009, as rents continued to increase and median household incomes decreased from 2008. These trends have hit the lowest income renters the hardest. The data also indicate a rising demand for renting and away from homeownership, with the homeownership rate decreasing for the fourth year in a row.
The total number of renters experiencing a housing cost burden, defined as spending more than 30% 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%, of all renter households facing a housing cost burden, up from 50.0% in 2008. The rise in cost-burdened renter households is a result of a rise in rents coupled with a drop in incomes: 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% of those earning $20,000 or less and 53% of those earning $20,000 to $49,999 facing such a burden. A continued loss of affordable housing units contributes to this increase in unaffordable housing cost burden among lower income renters. The proportion of rental units renting for less than $750 declined significantly (from 42.8% to 40.4%) over the past year, while the number of units offered for more than $1,000 increased significantly (from 33.2% to 35.4%).
The proportion of homeowner households with a mortgage who are housing cost burdened fell slightly from 2008 to 2009, from 37.8% to 37.7%. 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.
Further indication that the housing downturn has led to a decline in homeownership is reflected in ACS data that shows the homeownership rate declining to 65.9% in 2009, from 67.3% in 2006, while the percentage of families renting increased to 34.1%, from 32.7% 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 people per household. In general, the number of households with more than one person per room has increased to 3.2%, from 3.1% in 2008. In addition, the number and proportion of multigenerational households appears to have increased by more than 200,000, rising from 3.4% to 3.6% of all households in the last year.
The American Community Survey (ACS) is an annual survey of approximately 3 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. These economic briefs cover topics such as poverty, income, and health insurance coverage, and can be found at: http://www. census.gov/acs/www/data_documentation/2009_release/
More information on the ACS is available at http://www. census.gov/acs/www/
Link to NLIHC’s press release on the data at: http://www.nlihc. org/detail/article.cfm?article_id=7370&id=48