Number of Families Struggling to Afford Rent Rises Sharply

November 21, 2012 at 11:04 am

The number of low-income families struggling to afford housing has grown dramatically in recent years, according to CBPP analysis of new Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data.  That’s one reason why so many poor children live in households that face major hardships such as falling behind on the rent or mortgage, as my colleague Arloc Sherman recently noted.

About 8.5 million households with very low incomes faced “worst case housing needs” last year, meaning that they had no housing assistance and either paid more than half of their income for rent and utilities or lived in severely substandard housing.  That’s 2.6 million (43 percent) more households than in 2007.

Families that pay large shares of their income for rent are much more likely to move frequently or go through periods of homelessness — experiences that can seriously harm children’s health and development.

Many more families would face severe housing problems without federal rental assistance programs like “Section 8” vouchers and public housing, which help close to 5 million households afford decent housing.  But, due to funding limitations, rental assistance has expanded only modestly as needs have grown (see graph), and families in much of the country face long waiting lists.  If policymakers cut rental assistance programs as part of a major budget deal, even more families could face unaffordably high rents.

To stem and ultimately begin to reverse the growth in severe housing needs, policymakers should:

  • Avoid cutting non-defense discretionary funding even more than they already have. Policymakers last year cut non-defense discretionary spending — the budget category that includes rental assistance — by about $900 billion over the coming decade, mainly by imposing spending caps in the Budget Control Act.  Policymakers have already cut housing assistance funding by $2.5 billion (6 percent) below 2010 levels and will have to squeeze funding for a range of programs — likely including housing assistance — to meet the caps in future years.  Further cuts would heighten the risk of major cuts in rental assistance.
  • Streamline rental assistance programs. Congress could stretch limited funding further by making rental assistance more efficient.  One promising bill, the Affordable Housing and Self-Sufficiency Improvement Act (AHSSIA), contains well-crafted, broadly supported reforms that would protect low-income families while saving $2.8 billion over five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.     
  • Rebalance housing-related tax policies to help low-income renters. The bulk of federal spending on housing goes to tax subsidies for homeowners, which mainly benefit higher-income families.  The deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes will cost more than $100 billion in 2012, or about twice as much as all federal low-income housing programs combined.  Congress should reform homeownership tax breaks and direct some of the savings to a renters’ tax credit that would ease hardship for families at the bottom of the income scale.
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More About Will Fischer

Will Fischer

Fischer is a Senior Policy Analyst, focusing on federal low-income housing programs, including Section 8 vouchers, public housing, and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit.

Full bio | Blog Archive | Research archive at

3 Comments Add Yours ↓

Comments are listed in reverse chronological order.

  1. londa jaree #

    I dont per say think that the should cut the budget on it, I think there should be a time frame on the assistance like 5 years than they should have to reapply for another 5 years and thats a total of 10 max. For sure by a decade they should have enough money saved,, right??

  2. Gloria W #

    I was interested when I saw the HUD assisted housing/rental assistance.

    I believe there would be a greater part of our nation seeking to increase assisted rentals if the rules were changed a bit, to assist the landlord or home owner who is putting a unit up for rent.

    While many think that all landlords are wealthy, or ‘slum’ lords, many are not, but have also been hurt in the housing bust and the economy downturn. It would seem that more people would welcome the guaranteed rental income, but what I have seen locally, suggests the opposite.

    The landlord must have the entire property approved by HUD, not just to have everything in working order, but also, to be in relatively ‘newer’ condition. There is an ongoing effort to house those in need in mostly newer units, or remodeled units. There is an inspection done prior to approval, and then, at the end of a year- for renewal. The landlord must absorb the costs of the lack of care to a unit by a tenant- unless it is outright negligent damage. Even then, the unit might be down for considerable time before it is again able to be rented.

    I have found few people that want to deal with HUD and their policies, which is contrary to strengthening both the program and the economy.

  3. Mary Prater #

    Raising the minimum waage could be the downfall of many a small business. However, I feel there is a need for a living wage. Another way is for those companies that make an obsence profit and don’t pay their empolyees a living wage should be taxed twice what that employee would receive in assistance. Such companies like Hostess, the bankruptcy judge who allowed the ceo’s wages to triple while asking the working folk to take a cut in pay and benefits should be removed from the bench. The problem, minimum wage isn’t enough to keep a family afloat. There has to be programs to help the working poor pull themselves up. Public education is failing our children

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