Report Finds HUD-Assisted Renters are Poorer, Older, and More Likely to Have Disabilities than Eligible Unassisted Renters

HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) released “Characteristics of HUD-Assisted Renters and Their Units in 2017,” a report that compares characteristics of HUD-assisted tenants with all renters and with all very low-income (VLI) renters (i.e., those who make 50% or less of area median income and are eligible for aid). The report finds that HUD-assisted renters are poorer and older than all VLI renters, more likely to be Black, less likely to be Hispanic, and more likely to have lower levels of educational attainment. The report finds that HUD-assisted tenants are likely to have longer tenures than all VLI renters or renters generally.

The report draws information from the 2017 American Housing Survey (AHS) on 4,728 HUD-assisted rental units, including public housing, homes rented with Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, and privately owned subsidized multifamily housing. These homes and their tenants are compared with all rental units occupied by VLI households and all rental units generally. This report is the tenth in a series of reports dating back to 1989 on HUD-assisted housing, and the authors use prior reports to track changes in assisted housing. Since 1989, the number of HUD-assisted units increased by 500,000 units but changed considerably in program mix. In 1989, 26% of HUD-assisted tenants were voucher recipients, 33.4% were in public housing, and 40.5% were in project-based, privately owned multifamily units. In 2017, 47.8% of tenants were voucher recipients, 21.3% were in public housing, and 30.9% were in project-based assistance.

The report finds that the stock of HUD-assisted housing, particularly public housing, is more concentrated in the Northeast and less concentrated in the West. The Northeast has 19% of all renters but 36.5% of all public housing; the West has 25% of all renters but 8.8% of all public housing. The authors attribute this difference to the age of the communities; communities in the Northeast were more likely to have active public housing authorities when the public housing program was most active. Renters in HUD-assisted homes are more likely than all VLI renters or renters generally to live in housing built before 1984. A greater proportion of HUD-assisted homes are efficiencies or two-bedroom units, while a greater proportion of the total rental stock are units with three or more bedrooms. The authors note that a large percentage of privately-owned multifamily projects were built to serve seniors, which may explain the larger share of efficiency apartments in these projects.

The report describes characteristics of householders in HUD-assisted housing. The table below summarizes comparisons of all renters, all VLI renters (including assisted and unassisted households), and HUD-assisted renters.

Table 1: Householder and Household Characteristics

All renters

All VLI renters

HUD-assisted renters

Percent Black




Percent Hispanic




Percent 65 or older




Household member has a disability




High school graduation rates




Receive wage or salary income




Spend more than 40% of income on housing




The geographic distribution of public housing (less concentrated in the West) may explain the larger share of Black HUD-assisted renters and smaller share of Hispanic HUD-assisted renters. The larger share of senior households and households in which a member has a disability partly explains why HUD-assisted renters are more likely to receive public assistance, Social Security, or Supplemental Security Income than all VLI renters. HUD-assisted renters generally have lower household incomes than unassisted VLI renters. The median income of public housing residents is $10,800, compared to $11,160 for tenants in privately owned multifamily projects, $12,500 for voucher recipients, $16,000 for unassisted VLI renters, and $36,100 for all renters.

The report includes data on housing quality and tenant satisfaction in HUD-assisted units. HUD-assisted buildings are more likely than rental housing for all VLI renters or all renters to be buildings with 50 or more units. Among HUD-assisted units, 92.3% are adequate (with plumbing, heating, electricity, and not requiring major maintenance). Among homes occupied by all VLI renters, 90% are adequate, and 92.5% of homes occupied by all renters are adequate. When asked how satisfied they were with their buildings and neighborhoods, tenants in HUD-assisted housing were more likely than all renters generally to give their buildings the highest possible ratings and slightly less likely than all renters to give their neighborhoods the highest possible ratings. Public housing tenants gave their buildings and neighborhoods slightly lower ratings than did voucher recipients and tenants in privately owned multifamily buildings.

The full report can be accessed here: