Finding Affordable Housing Is A Struggle For Americans Across Income Levels | KERA News

Finding Affordable Housing Is A Struggle For Americans Across Income Levels

Aug 7, 2018

Almost half of all renters spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, and with the lack of affordable housing, it’s no wonder more than 500,000 Americans spend the night on the streets.

Journalist Bryce Covert joined KERA's Think to talk about how our current affordable housing crisis came to be, which she writes about for The Nation.

Interview Highlights

On the state of affordable housing in America

There's nowhere in this country where there's enough housing for people who need to afford it at the bottom of the income scale. We used to have a surplus of affordable housing for lowest-income Americans back in the 1970s. Right now, there's a 7.2 million unit deficit. That's really hard to overcome. It's a game of musical chairs where there are not enough chairs.

We see people coping by sometimes doubling up; people will cram multiple families into one unit or a unit with a couple of bedrooms. People will spend far too much money on a unit well above what's considered affordable and sacrifice other places just so they have a roof over their head. And a lot of people just don't get a chair, end up homeless, and we a have very sizable homeless population in the country considering that we are one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. 

"If you're spending more than about a third of your income on rent that's considered to be unaffordable or a strain on your budget."

On what is considered affordable housing

The benchmark that is widely accepted is 30 percent of your income, it should be the ceiling above which you shouldn't be going. If you're spending more than about a third of your income on rent that's considered to be unaffordable or a strain on your budget. Of course, across the country about half of renters are spending more than that to afford somewhere to live. You could say that most people are spending more than they really should financially speaking. That means they're probably cutting back somewhere else in their budget just to afford rent. 

On how much affordable housing the U.S. needs

Considering we have a deficit of 7.2 million rental homes for the very lowest-income Americans — that's people at the bottom of the income scale — if we added just that number, we would start to fill the hole. But there are people above that level who struggle to pay rent even if they have somewhere to live, who are spending more than they really should be.

This is a problem that is reaching up the income scale. A lot of people are struggling, particularly in the wake of the housing crisis when a lot of people were foreclosed on or lost their houses and were pushed back into the rental market. It would take about 7 million homes just to address the most dire need at the bottom, but it's going to take more than that to make sure that everybody has a safe, secure, affordable place to live. 

Interview responses have been edited for clarity and length.