14-2 Taking Pride into Our Work: Research Update

By Dan Emmanuel, Sophie Siebach-Glover, and Mackenzie Pish, NLIHC

The Gap

NLIHC published its annual report The Gap on March 16. The report finds that the lowest-income renters in the U.S. face a shortage of 7.3 million affordable and available rental homes. The shortage increased by more than 500,000 rental homes from 2019 to 2021, as the number of renters with extremely low incomes increased while the supply of housing affordable to them declined during the pandemic. Only 33 affordable and available homes exist for every 100 renter households with extremely low incomes. This shortage impacts every state and the District of Columbia, resulting in widespread housing cost burdens for renters with the lowest incomes. Seventy-three percent of extremely low-income renter households are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their limited incomes on housing. These renters account for more than 70% of severely housing cost-burdened renters in the U.S.

While the report addresses the need for local zoning and land use reform, these efforts, on their own, are not enough to address the nation’s housing affordability challenges. The report emphasizes that significant federal investments are also needed to assist the lowest-income renters. Specifically, the report argues that Congress must make deeply targeted, sustained investments to preserve and expand the affordable housing stock, increase Housing Choice Vouchers, and create a national housing stabilization fund for renters who experience an unexpected short-term financial shock. Federal protections are also needed to protect tenants from predatory landlords and ensure housing stability. Visit www.nlihc.org/gap to learn more and find data for your community.

Out of Reach

On June 14, NLIHC released its annual Out of Reach report, which compares the wages people earn and the price of modest rental housing in every state, metropolitan area, and county in the U.S. The report shows that affordable rental homes are out of reach for millions of low-wage workers and other families. The report’s “Housing Wage” is an estimate of the hourly wage full-time workers must earn to afford a rental home at fair market rent without spending more than 30% of their incomes. Nationally, the 2023 Housing Wage is $28.58 per hour for a modest two-bedroom rental home and $23.67 for a modest one-bedroom rental home.

Housing is out of reach for workers across a range of occupations and wage levels. Sixty percent of all workers earn an hourly wage that is less than the two-bedroom Housing Wage, and nearly 50% of workers earn an hourly wage that is less than the one-bedroom Housing Wage. Thirteen of the 20 most common occupations in the U.S. pay median wages that are lower than the two-bedroom Housing Wage, and 10 of these occupations, which account for more than one-third of the workforce, pay median wages that are lower than the national one-bedroom Housing Wage. The problem is acute and widespread for the lowest-wage workers: in no state, metropolitan area, or county can a full-time minimum-wage worker afford a modest two-bedroom rental home. A full-time minimum-wage worker also cannot afford a modest one-bedroom rental home in over 92% of U.S. counties.

This year’s report cautions that rent inflation and the end of many pandemic-era benefit programs are combining to exacerbate the financial insecurity of low-income renters, leading to higher eviction filing rates and increased homelessness in some communities. The report calls for substantial, long-term federal investment in affordable housing solutions, including an expansion of rental assistance provided by the Housing Choice Voucher program, a significant increase in resources for the national Housing Trust Fund, adequate federal funds to renew Project-Based Rental Assistance and to repair public housing, a national emergency rent stabilization fund, and strengthened renter protections. Visit www.nlihc.org/oor to read the report and access data for your community.

Emergency Rental Assistance

The research team continues to track and study the emergency rental assistance (ERA) programs established during the pandemic. In May and June of this year, NLIHC surveyed more than 150 jurisdictions whose Treasury-funded emergency rental assistance programs had distributed all or nearly all their money to learn whether they planned to close or to continue any part of their programs with other resources. NLIHC, in partnership with the Housing Initiative at Penn (HIP), also conducted in-depth interviews with 10 program administrators about their decisions. Overall, interviewees felt that ERA accomplished what it was meant to: namely, preventing a wave of evictions and keeping people stably housed during the pandemic. Many administrators are still grappling with how to continue this valuable program but face difficult challenges like a lack of funding and staff capacity. The research team is also in the process of updating NLIHC’s Rental Housing Programs Database, which is a database of affordable rental housing programs funded by states and large cities rather than by federal resources. The database serves as a resource for state and local advocates. A report summarizing whom these programs serve and how they are funded will be published later this year.