About the Gap Report

Each year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) measures the availability of rental housing affordable to extremely low-income households and other income groups. Based on the American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample (ACS PUMS), The Gap presents data on the affordable housing supply and housing cost burdens at the national, state, and metropolitan levels. The report also examines the demographics, disability and work status, and other characteristics of the extremely low-income households most impacted by the national shortage of affordable and available rental homes.

Who Are the Lowest Income Renters?

Of the 44.1 million renter households in the U.S., 11.0 million have extremely low incomes – that is, incomes at or below either the federal poverty guideline or 30% of the area median income (AMI), whichever is higher. Forty-eight percent of renter householders with extremely low incomes are seniors or householders with disabilities. Another 42% are in the labor force, in school, or single-adult caregivers. Of those in the labor force, 39% usually work 40 or more hours per week.

chart showing the most extremely low-income householders are in labor force, are seniors, or have a disability

Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Latino households are more likely than white households to be extremely low-income renters. Nineteen percent of Black households, 17% of American Indian or Alaska Native households, and 14% of Latino households are extremely low-income renters, compared to 6% of white households. This disparity is the result of higher homeownership rates and higher incomes among white households. Racial disparities also exist among renters alone. Thirty-seven percent of American Indian or Alaska Native renters, 34% of Black renters, and 26% of Latino renters have extremely low incomes, compared to 22% of non-Latino white renters.

There Is a Severe Shortage of Affordable Housing for the Lowest-Income Renters

The U.S. has a shortage of 7.3 million rental homes affordable and available to renters with extremely low incomes.  Only 33 affordable and available rental homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. Extremely low-income renters face a shortage in every state and major metropolitan area. Among states, the supply of affordable and available rental homes ranges from only 17 affordable and available homes for every 100 extremely low-income renter households in Nevada to 58 in South Dakota. In 12 of the 50 largest metro areas in the country, the absolute shortage of affordable and available homes for extremely low-income renters exceeds 100,000 units.

The Shortage of Affordable Housing Results in Cost-Burdens and Housing Instability for Millions of Renters

Cost burdens are a direct result of low wages and the shortage of affordable and available rental homes. A household is cost-burdened when it spends more than 30% of its income on rent and utilities and severely cost-burdened when it spends more than 50% of its income on these expenses. Seventy-three percent of extremely low-income renter households are severely cost-burdened. They account for 72% of all severely cost-burdened renter households in the U.S.

chart showing extremely low-income households disproportionately experience sever housing cost burdens

Severely housing cost-burdened and poor renters make significant sacrifices to pay for housing. An extremely low-income family of four with monthly income of $2,312 paying the average two-bedroom fair market rent of $1,342 only has $970 left each month to cover non-housing expenses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s thrifty food budget for a family of four (two adults and two school-aged children) estimates a family needs to spend $967 per month to cover food alone, leaving no funds left for transportation, childcare, and other necessities.

The Worsening Shortage of Affordable and Available Rental Housing

Between 2019 and 2021, the shortage of affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income renters worsened by more than 500,000 units, increasing from a shortage of 6.8 million to 7.3 million. Income losses due to the pandemic, followed by significant increases in rental prices, resulted in 200,000 new households becoming extremely low-income,  as well as in a decrease in the number of units affordable to them.

Long-Term Needs

To fully address the shortage of affordable rental housing for renters with extremely low incomes, Congress must increase funding to provide adequate resources for both preserving the stock of existing affordable housing and increasing the supply of deeply affordable units. Proposed legislation like the “American Housing and Economic Mobility Act” (“S.1368” in the 117th Congress) would address the shortage of affordable rental homes for extremely low-income renters through an investment of nearly $45 billion annually in the national Housing Trust Fund. The bill also includes resources to repair public housing, build or rehabilitate housing in tribal and Native Hawaiian communities, and create and preserve affordable homes in rural areas.

Congress must also increase resources for rental assistance through Housing Choice Vouchers. While vouchers alone do not increase the supply of housing, they help address the shortage of affordable and available units for extremely low-income renters by allowing them to afford moderately priced units. The “Ending Homelessness Act of 2021” (“H.R.4496” in the 117th Congress), for example, proposed to establish a universal voucher program that would enable all eligible households to receive rental assistance. The bipartisan “Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act” (“S.1991” in the 117th Congress) would create 500,000 housing vouchers specifically targeted to low-income families with young children and provide mobility counseling services to help families find housing options in neighborhoods of their choice.

While long-term solutions are necessary to remedy the persistent shortage of affordable and available housing, short-term assistance is critical for lifting up low-income households and protecting their housing stability when they experience unexpected financial shocks. Economic precarity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic merely highlighted what has long been known: the lowest-income families are just one missed paycheck or unexpected expense away from potential eviction or homelessness. The “Eviction Crisis Act” (“S.2182” in the 117th Congress) would establish a national housing stabilization fund for renters facing temporary financial setbacks. Stopgap funding for renters in need would help prevent the many negative consequences associated with evictions and homelessness, including mental stress, loss of possessions, instability for children, and increased difficulty finding a new apartment.

Congress should also enact federal renter protections to address power imbalances between landlords and renters that put renters at risk of housing instability. These protections include source-of-income protections to prevent landlords from discriminating against voucher holders, “just cause” or “good cause” eviction standards, access to legal counsel to put renters on more equal legal footing with landlords, expungement of eviction records, and limits on rent gouging. The “Ending Homelessness Act of 2021” (“H.R.4496” in the 117th Congress) and “Fair Housing Improvement Act” (“S. 4485” and “H.R. 8213” in the 117th Congress) would prohibit discrimination based on source of income.