7.7 Million Very Low-Income Households Experience “Worst Case Housing Needs”

HUD published on June 19 its Worst Case Housing Needs: 2019 Report to Congress, showing that 7.7 million unassisted very low-income renter households in America spend more than half of their income on housing, live in severely inadequate housing, or both. This represents an improvement from the overall record high of 8.5 million households in 2011 and 8.3 million households in 2015. The report attributes the recent decline in “worst case housing” needs to economic growth. Despite this incremental improvement, the number of households experiencing worst case housing is still 54% larger than it was in 2001. The report attributed the persistence of worst case housing needs to rising rents, inadequate housing assistance, and competition for a limited supply of affordable rentals.

The report is produced biannually using data from the American Housing Survey (AHS). This most recent report is based on 2017 data and defines very low income (VLI) households as those with incomes at or below 50% of the area median income (AMI). The report details trends in worst case housing needs over time; demographics of households with worst case needs; differences in worst case needs by region and metropolitan location; geographic distribution of the affordable housing stock; and reasons why affordable housing supply and demand have changed over time.

While households have worst case housing needs if they are severely housing cost-burdened or live in severely inadequate housing, the vast majority of households with worst case needs (nearly 97.5%) spend more than half of their income on housing: only 5.1% live in severely inadequate housing. Among the 12.9 million unassisted VLI renter households in 2017, 7.7 million (59.9%) had worst case housing needs. Among the 7.5 million unassisted renters with extremely low incomes, 5.6 million (74%) had worst case housing needs. The number of renters with extremely low incomes grew between 2015 and 2017.

Worst case needs were found across all types of communities, racial groups, ethnic lines, and household types. Non-Latino White renters accounted for 47.1% of all households with worst case needs, Latinos accounted for 24.4%, non-Latino Blacks accounted for 20.5%, and renters of other races and ethnicities accounted for 8.0%. These numbers show a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino households compared to their share of the general population.

One-third of all households experiencing worst case needs (33.3%) were families with children, followed by nonfamily households (32.4%), elderly households without children (25.0%), and other family households (9.3%). The number of elderly households experiencing severe housing problems has steadily increased over the past decade. In 2017, 39% of all elderly renters with very low incomes—had worst case needs. Similarly, 39.8% of very low-income renter households of nonelderly individuals with disabilities had worst case needs.

Worst case needs were common in every region and metropolitan category across the country. The prevalence of worst case needs was greater than the national average in the South and West. Regional disparities in the prevalence of housing assistance for very low-income renter households might explain some of this variation. Worst case needs were more prevalent in suburbs, where housing assistance was even more scarce.

One reason for the persistence of worst case needs is the lack of affordable rental homes. The authors found that nationwide, only 52 affordable, available, and adequate units exist for every 100 very low-income renter households, and NLIHC research shows that there are only 35 affordable, available, and adequate units for every 100 extremely low-income renter households, those with incomes at or below the poverty level or 30% of area median incomes.

The report can be found at: https://bit.ly/2ZoVAY5