Housing Cost Burden for Low-Income Renters Spiked in Last Two Decades
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reported changes in renter households and affordability from 2001 to 2017. The report, “As More Households Rent, the Poorest Face Affordability and Housing Quality Challenges,” is the first in a GAO series that aims to provide a detailed assessment of the country’s housing market. It describes rental housing trends, including rental affordability and rental housing quality.
According to the report, low-income renters making less than 80 percent of the area median income suffer the most severe affordability challenges and reside in poor quality housing at a much higher rate than higher income groups. GAO used data from the American Community Survey, American Housing Survey, recent research reports, and subject area experts to inform its analysis.
The report finds that the share of households who rent in the United States began rising after the start of the financial crisis in 2007. In 2017, there were nearly 7 million more rental households compared to 2001. As of 2017, renter households comprised approximately 36 percent of all households.
Despite the growing number of rental households, the report says the supply of rental units hasn’t kept up. And this trend has led to decreased affordability, particularly among low-income households. GAO found that in 2017, 48 percent of renter households were cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their household income on rent. This is a six-percentage point increase from 2001, when 42 percent of renter households were cost burdened. Low-income households bore the brunt of this cost burden.
Lastly, GAO assessed the state of rental housing quality, finding that 15 percent of rental units, housing over 5 million households, had serious quality issues or were incomplete. The most common quality issues were cracked walls, rodent infestations, problems with heating systems, and water leaks. And low-income households disproportionately resided in units with serious deficiencies.