Affordable Housing Shortage Puts Low Income Households in Major Cities at Risk of Homelessness

There are many paths to homelessness—job loss, a medical emergency, or an increase in rent, to name a few—and there are many paths to exit homelessness. Though every person’s story is unique, there are commonalities amongst them.

Recently, we looked at why minimum wage isn’t enough to afford housing and why there are increasingly few affordable rental units available to low-income households. When you take these two trends together, it’s easy to infer disastrous results: many low-income renters are at risk of falling into homelessness.

Indeed, in America’s largest cities incomes are often insufficient to rent a home and affordable housing is scarce. Recently, researchers for a new report from the New York University Furman Center and Capital One, found that an overwhelming majority of low-income renter households in the nation’s 11 biggest cities were severely rent-burdened.

According to its findings, more than 60 percent of low income renters in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, DC must devote more than half of their monthly income to rent and utilities.

Other startling findings include:

  • From 2006 to 2013, demand for rental units increased faster than the supply of available rental units. These mismatches in supply and demand means that vacancy rates declined in nine of the 11 cities studied, and that it was increasingly more difficult to find units to rent.
  • In almost every city studied, median rent outpaced inflation from 2006 to 2013. This has made affordable housing increasingly hard to find, as more and more units are out of reach for low-income renters.
  • Even in the cities that are most affordable (Boston and Washington, D.C.), low-income renters only could afford 11 percent of the recently available units in 2013.
  • In five cities studied (Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and San Francisco), moderate-income renters only could afford less than 33 percent of recently available units in 2013.

This report shows a dire situation for low-income renters in America’s largest cities. Incomes are not keeping up with the price of rent, and affordable rental units are more in demand and thus increasingly difficult to find. Combined, these factors place thousands of Americans in a precarious situation that leaves them at risk of homelessness and makes it even more difficult for thousands of others to exit homelessness.

Without a commitment to increasing wages and the stock of affordable housing in our largest cities, these trends likely will continue: more and more Americans will be vulnerable to and have difficulty exiting homelessness.

Graphic from "Renting In America’s Largest Cities" from the New York University Furman Center and Capital One.