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New Report from National Low Income Housing Coalition: “Out of Reach” Rents in Context of COVID-19

NLIHC’s ‘Out of Reach 2020’ report concludes that the economic downturn spurred by the coronavirus further increases the risk of housing instability for millions of low-wage renters who were struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic.

Washington, DC - The coronavirus pandemic is making it abundantly clear that housing is healthcare. Millions of households cannot afford their rent and are at imminent risk of eviction and homelessness; without homes, people cannot “stay at home” or self-isolate, putting themselves and their communities at greater risk of contracting and spreading the illness.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) released today Out of Reach 2020: The High Cost of Housing, a report that highlights the mismatch between the wages people earn and the price of decent rental housing in every state, metropolitan area, and county in the U.S. The report calculates the “Housing Wage” a full-time worker must earn to afford a rental home without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. This year’s national Housing Wage is $23.96 per hour for a two-bedroom home at fair market rent and $19.56 per hour for a modest one-bedroom rental home.

Even before the pandemic, housing was out of reach for millions of low-wage workers and other low-income households. In no state, metropolitan area, or county can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford a modest two-bedroom rental home, and full-time minimum-wage workers cannot afford modest one-bedroom apartments in 95% of U.S. counties. Almost 8 million extremely low-income renters are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing. Such cost burdens lead too often to housing instability and homelessness. More than 211,000 people in the U.S. experienced homelessness on sidewalks or other unsheltered locations on a given night in 2019, and another 356,000 experienced homelessness in emergency shelters, with limited ability to self-isolate. In addition, more than 2.7 million renters live in overcrowded housing conditions, making social distancing from an infected housemate all but impossible.

The report highlights that housing affordability is a long-standing racial justice issue, made clearer than ever during the pandemic. Historic and continuing racist housing policies and practices result in people of color disproportionately facing greater challenges accessing decent and affordable homes. Black and Latino workers earn less than white workers, and Black and Latino households are more likely to spend more than 30% of their incomes on housing: while 26% of white households are housing cost-burdened, 42% of Latino households and 44% of Black households are cost-burdened.  Structural injustices, unequal access to housing and healthcare, and greater exposure in low-wage and frontline jobs have resulted in people of color disproportionately contracting COVID-19 and being at high risk of losing their homes and becoming homeless during the pandemic.

With unemployment rates and reduced wages rising dramatically during the pandemic, evictions and homelessness will also surge, unless significant federal emergency rental assistance and other renter protections are provided. NLIHC and advocates around the country are calling on Congress to take urgent action to ensure those at greatest risk can remain stably housed during and after the pandemic, including at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance; a uniform, national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures; $11.5 billion to protect people experiencing homelessness; and additional resources for public housing authorities and housing providers. In the long run, a deep, sustained commitment to the national Housing Trust Fund, Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs), and public housing could make affordable rental housing for all a reality.

“For over 30 years, Out of Reach has been an indispensable tool documenting the gap between renters’ incomes and the cost of housing,” wrote Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) in the preface to the report. “It has never been more relevant. The coronavirus pandemic has been the ‘great revealer,’ laying bare the inequities in our society, and reminding us how our homes affect every aspect of our lives, including our health. Congress must act now to keep families in their homes and ensure that we do not emerge from the current crisis with greater racial and wealth inequality than we began with.” 

“Housing is a basic human need, but millions of people in America cannot afford a safe, stable home,” said NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel. “The harm of this enduring challenge is laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic, when millions of people in America risk losing their homes. The lack of affordable homes for the lowest-income people is one of our country’s most urgent and solvable challenges, during and after COVID-19; we lack only the political will to fund the solutions at the scale necessary. It’s time for Congress to act.”

Out of Reach 2020: The High Cost of Housing is available at: