NEW YORK, NY - The growing shortage of affordable housing for low-income residents in the United States contributed to a 20% increase in family homelessness from 2007 to 2010, according to A Home by Any Other Name: Enhancing Shelters Addresses the Gap in Low-income Housing, a report released by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH).
According to the most recent year for which data is available, there were only 5.4 million units renting at less than $458 a month—or 30% of the monthly income for a family of three at the Federal poverty line. At the same time there were 10.9 million households earning even less than the $18,310-a-year federal poverty line.
Making the situation worse for the poorest Americans, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that higher-income renters live in close to 42%—or 2.3 million—of these affordable rental units. This means that less than one-third of the poorest families have access to affordable housing.
The analysis posits that the lack of housing affordable to low-income renters is likely caused by a decline in public housing units without a corresponding rise in the number of federal vouchers through which renters pay no more than 30% of their income towards rent - a decrease in real earnings for the lowest-income workers, and an overall rise in the cost of rental housing.
Despite the growing affordability gap, the proportion of federal dollars spent on housing programs for low-income households has reached an all-time low, falling 20% since 1995. In 2012, those earning the minimum wage could not afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.
"It is clear that the number of affordable rental units has not changed in three decades as the number of people who need affordable housing has skyrocketed," says Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness Principal Policy Analyst Matthew Adams. "This gap is unsustainable."
This trend is consistent across the country. In 2011, of all the jurisdictions with available data, Los Angeles County had the largest gap between the need for and availability of subsidized housing—21,027 Section 8 vouchers, but 179,651 people on the waiting list, and 2,962 public housing vouchers with 121,393 people on the waiting list.
For the past 30 years, the local, state, and federal governments have spent billions of dollars to create a system of shelters and transitional housing. More than 1.6 million people lived in homeless shelters throughout the year in 2010. The ICPH report suggests that shelters are a new form of low-income and supportive housing, and should be treated as such by offering increased job training, education, and independent-living and life skills, becoming sites of "work plus housing."
"The lack of affordable housing in the United States means that for many families, homeless shelters have become a surrogate for low-income housing," says Ralph da Costa Nunez, president of the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness (ICPH). "Shelters should be seen as tools, not as roadblocks, for these families working to restore their independence."
New York as a case study
The median monthly rent in New York City is $1,129—an amount that would require a family of three living at the poverty line to pay 74% of income on housing. In New York City in 2011, there were 123,499 households on the Section 8 voucher waiting list and 163,965 on the waiting list for public housing.
In New York, examples of the "work plus housing" model for homeless shelters already exist. For more information about these Work Plus Housing Models, see ICPH's A New Path: An Immediate Plan to Reduce Family Homelessness.
The Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH) is an independent nonprofit research organization based in New York City. ICPH studies the impact of poverty on family and child well-being and generates research that will enhance public policies and programs affecting poor or homeless children and their families. Specifically, ICPH examines the condition of extreme poverty in the United States and its effect on educational attainment, housing, employment, child welfare, domestic violence, and family wellness.