A new report, America’s Rental Housing 2020, from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies shows that despite a strong economy, the typical renter households are paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing. It has become harder than ever for middle-income Americans to pay for rent.

From 2010 to 2018, households with incomes of $75,000 and above accounted for 3.2 million of the growth in renters, and renters with incomes between $30,000 and $75,000 are now cost-burdened. The economic cost of rental housing affordability is not surprising that these conditions have also led to increases in homelessness. Another effect is the fact that renting has become more common among households that would be more likely to be homeowners. Families with children make up the largest percentage of renter households at 29 percent compared to house owners at 26 percent.

The report also highlights how new rental construction focuses on higher-income renters inexpensive apartments, which has doubled between 2012 and mid-2019. The Census Bureau reported that despite the strong demand for rental that the national vacancy rate was at 6.8 percent in 2019. Still, the increase in the number of households paying more than 30 percent of income for rent and utilities grew by 261,000 to 20.8 million in 2018. One in four renters in 2018, spent more than half their income on housing, particularly for individuals earning between $45,000 to $74,999.

Federal assistance to address the rental housing challenge is limited to HUD’s rental assistance programs for low-income renters that only assist about one in four eligible households, including older adults and families with children. State and local investment to fill the gap specifically for those who typically would be ineligible for federal programs fail to meet the need as well. States and jurisdictions, like New York, California, Maryland, and the District of Columbia have instituted rent control measures, while others have zoning measures to incentivize affordable housing developments.

The report addresses the need for a comprehensive response from federal, state, and local governments to address the depth and breadth of the nation’s rental affordability crisis. To read the full report along with interactive maps and data, click here.

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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