Enterprise Community Partners and the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University have issued a report, Projecting Trends in Severely Cost-Burdened Renters: 2015-2025. The report opens,
At last measure in 2013, over one in four renters, or 11.2 million renter households, were severely burdened by rents that took up over half their incomes. This total represented a slight reduction from the record level of 11.3 million set in 2011, but remains dramatically higher than the start of the last decade, having risen by more than 3 million since 2000. With substantial growth in renter households expected over the next decade and little sign of a turnaround in the income and rent trends that produced these record levels of cost burdens, there is little prospect for substantial improvement in these conditions over the coming decade. (4)
And it concludes,
Overall, our analysis projects a fairly bleak picture of severe renter burdens across the U.S. for the coming decade. Under nearly all of the scenarios performed, we found that the renter affordability crisis will continue to worsen without intervention. According to our projections, annual income growth would need to exceed annual rent growth by 1 percent in order to reduce the number of severely burdened renters in 10 years. Importantly, that decline would have a net impact on fewer than 200,000 households, only because continued increases in burdens among minorities would be offset by declines among whites. Under the more likely scenario that rents will continue to outpace incomes, the number of severely rent-burdened households would increase by a range of 1.7 – 3 million, depending on the magnitude.
Given these findings, it is critical for policymakers at all levels of government to prioritize the preservation and development of affordable rental housing. Even if the economy continues its slow recovery and income growth improves, there are simply not enough quality, affordable rental units to house the millions of households paying over half their income in rental costs. (16)
It is unsurprising that the policy takeaway of these two housing organizations is to prioritize the preservation and development of affordable housing. But given the pervasive nature of the problem, I wonder if it is better to just say that this is an income inequality problem and address the root cause — low-income families just don’t have enough money to make ends meet.