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The 2016 State of the Nation’s Housing Report published by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies once again points to the continued worsening of rental housing affordability as a significant societal issue calling for a more concerted response. Citing recent data from the American Community Survey, the report found that the number of renters facing housing cost burdens (i.e. paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing costs) hit another record high of 21.3 million, which is just about half of all renter households in the nation. More concerning, the number of people facing severe cost burdens (devoting more than half their income to housing), also reached a new record of 11.4 million. The report documents how the affordability crisis is getting new and greater policy attention, particularly at the state and local level. Indeed, with federal response failing to keep up with the need, a growing number of state and municipal governments have been taking matters into their own hands in attempts to add to the supply of affordable housing.
Affordability problems are nearly universal for the lowest income households. For those making $15,000 per year—roughly the equivalent of full time work at the federal minimum wage—83 percent are housing cost burdened. For most of these households, the level of burden is severe, with 72 percent of the lowest-income renters and 66 percent of the lowest-income owners paying over half their monthly household incomes towards housing.
But cost burdens are not limited to low-income households. They are increasingly climbing up the income scale to reach more and more moderate-income households.