Data Point: The State of the Nation’s Housing

written by Sam Batko
July 2, 2013

This blog post is part of a series that will analyze important research on homelessness, housing, poverty, and other related topics. Research can help inform both policy and practice, and this blog series will attempt to do just that.


Last week, the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard released The State of the Nation’s Housing 2013. This report is released annually and reports on a number of housing factors, including the state of the rental housing market and households living with housing cost burden.

What the report found was not great news for low-income renters. Vacancy rates continued to decrease in 2012 reaching 8.7 percent, the lowest level since 2001, and rents rose 2.7 percent. And, despite continued fluctuations in other aspects of the housing markets, the number of households with housing cost burdens continued to grow in 2011. Over 20 million households were severely housing cost burdened, which means they are paying more than half of their income on rent.

What does this mean for a real families and individuals? It means that seven out of ten households that make under $15,000 a year pay more than half of that income to housing.

In addition, not only are low-income households paying more toward housing, but the number of low-income renters is also continuing to grow: increasing by 2.5 million between 2007 and 2011. During that same time period, the number of available housing units that are affordable to low-income households has decreased.

You may be thinking, “The federal government has low-income housing assistance to help these households afford housing.” Yes, there are programs that are intended to assist low-income households in obtaining housing, but those programs are not funded to scale. According to HUD, only one in four eligible households receive housing assistance and sequestration will further limit those numbers as low-income housing assistance was not a protected program.

You may be wondering what all of this means in relation to homelessness. Ultimately, homelessness is caused by a household’s inability to afford housing. As we see in The State of the Nation’s Housing and in the Alliance’s State of Homelessness in America 2013, populations at risk of homelessness continue to grow as incomes decrease and the rental housing market becomes less accessible.

This can only point to a larger pool of potentially homeless households. Nevertheless, communities across the country are trying efficiently and effectively use resources to re-house households that have become homeless and we are seeing results in communities throughout the nation.