This week, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released their 2020 edition of The Gap report, which annually evaluates the housing shortage for low-income households in the United States. In this year’s assessment, the NLIHC found that the U.S. has a shortage of 7 million rental homes that are affordable and available to extremely low-income renter households (0-30% of the area median income). This bears out to only 36 affordable and available homes per every 100 extremely low-income renter households.
These national findings are alarming, but the results are even worse in our state. In Texas, there are only 29 affordable and available homes per every 100 extremely low-income renter households. Austin is tied for our nation’s worst score with only 14 affordable and available homes per every 100 extremely low-income renter household, with Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth trailing in the top 10.
The major metropolitan areas in Texas are not trending in a positive way. Looking at the results from 2019’s Gap Report, we see that Houston and Dallas did not improve, but the cities also did not worsen this year. Austin dropped from 21 homes per 100 ELI renters in 2019 to 14 such homes. San Antonio improved from 31 to 38 homes per 100 ELI households in the past year, however no state or major metropolitan area has an adequate supply of rental homes affordable and available for extremely low-income renters.
The bulk of renters within this shortage are people who live in cost-burdened households. Seventy-three percent of the poorest renter households are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing, with little left over for other basic necessities. Severely housing cost-burdened poor renters are more than twice as likely to fall behind on their rent, and be threatened with eviction, than those with no cost burden.
Black and Latino families are more likely than white people to be severely rent-burdened and to experience evictions and homelessness, the result of centuries of structural racism that systematically and purposefully excluded people of color from equal access to housing, community supports, and opportunities for economic mobility.
Texans who are at 50% AMI — classified as “very low-income renters” — are also experiencing a shortage. For this group, there are 1,405,612 renter households among 686,962 affordable and available rental homes, with a shortage of 718,650 homes. Meaning only about half of housing for households within 50% AMI is affordable and available. The shortage for the extremely low-income renters is also affected by the shortage for the very low-income renters, as the latter has a wider choice of what is “affordable” available to them.
With this in mind, the idea to simply build more housing without specific protections does not help. According to the NLIHC, increasing the supply of market-rate housing will not sufficiently address the housing needs of the lowest-income renters even as older units become more affordable over time (a process referred to as “filtering”). The filtering process fails to produce a sufficient supply of affordable rental homes inexpensive enough for the lowest-income renters to afford.
So what can be done to help our most vulnerable community members?
- For one, we need to increase capital investment in public housing. It faces a significant backlog of capital repair needs of as much as $56 billion, threatening the quality and even the existence of these homes. We also need to preserve the Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) and USDA rural housing programs by adding more funding.
- Housing Choice Vouchers are essential to improving access to affordable rental homes for low-income families, but in Texas, a landlord is not required to accept a voucher as payment. These vouchers are proven to reduce housing instability and homelessness and improve child and adult well-being. We need to appeal to our government to make this type of refusal a thing of the past.
- We need to expand resources to the national Housing Trust Fund: Multiple bills introduced in Congress would make significant investments in the national Housing Trust Fund — some proposals have called for more than $40 billion per year.
- By expanding and improving the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), developers could be incentivized to create more housing for extremely low-income renters through improvements to the LIHTC program, including a 50% basis boost in tax credits for developments that set aside at least 20% of their housing for extremely low-income renters.
- Given the present shortage of affordable and available homes, many low-income households suffer from housing instability and the threat of eviction. Creating a National Housing Stabilization Fund that provides direct, short-term financial assistance would mitigate some of those harms.
- A fully refundable renters’ tax credit targeted to the lowest- income renters would help address the gap between housing costs and the incomes of the poorest renters. The credits could be based on the difference between 30% of a renter’s household income and their actual housing costs up to a modest price.
It is with the public’s strength that these changes are made. Only through sustained federal investment in such solutions can we correct for the ongoing failures of the private market and achieve housing justice. And in Texas, we have much work to do.
You can read The Gap 2020 report below:Gap-Report_2020