Every year, The Gap report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) details the lack of affordable housing for Extremely Low-Income renters. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many challenges in our everyday lives, but perhaps most glaring is the dearth of resources for low-income households. We saw that when the coronavirus was at its worst, local, state, and federal government were each able to provide necessary lifelines — they acknowledged and addressed the issues that low-income households face. As those lifelines slowly started to fade, many low-income households returned to the tenuous position they previously existed in or got worse.
What the 2022 edition of The Gap report – released Thurs, Apr 21 – ultimately reveals is that too many renters are forced to live cost-burdened in housing that is beyond their means, often spending more than half of their income on rent. In fact, no state in the country has an adequate supply of affordable and available homes for extremely low-income renters, but in Texas, only 29 affordable and available homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. In Houston, only 19 such homes exist. In Austin, 22 such homes exist. And in Dallas, only 20 such homes exist. These three Texas cities (Houston, Austin, Dallas) are in the bottom 10 metros for affordable and available homes for ELI renters in the nation. San Antonio only offers 31 homes for every extremely low-income renter household. The homes needed for these families are simply not available.
And this situation is more complex when viewed via race: while 43% of white renters are cost-burdened (spending more than 1/3 of their income on rent), 53% of Latino renters and 55% of Black, non-Latino renters are cost-burdened. Similarly, 31 percent of Black, non-Latino renters and 28% of Latino renters are severely cost-burdened (spending more than half of their income on rent) compared to 22% of white, non-Latino renters. Twenty percent of Black households and 15% of Latino households are Extremely Low-Income, as opposed to 6 percent of white, non-Latino renters.
When breaking down the profiles of Extremely Low-Income renter households, 27% are seniors, 19% have a householder with a disability, and 37% are in the labor force. This means 83% of this group are the frontline workers we counted on during the pandemic or family members who are most vulnerable under COVID-19, yet there are so few homes available and affordable for them.
And to clarify, this is not even considering the millions of Americans who are behind on rent due to the pandemic. As of March 2022, 5.6 million renter households were behind on rent, accounting for 14% of renter households. One out of every five Black renter-households, 16% of Latino renter-households, 15% of Asian renter-households, and 10% of white renter-households were behind.
As of March 2022, 41% of renters behind on rent had reported applying for emergency rental assistance through state or local programs, including Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) programs. Over half of these applicants were still waiting for a response. As of February 2022, over $24.2 billion in Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) funds had been expended, including assistance for households, administrative costs, and housing stability services. ERA programs disbursed over $22.5 billion in rent and utility assistance, reaching approximately 3.2 million renter households. Ultimately, however, ERA funding is finite and will eventually be depleted in every community.
Black and Latino workers were more likely to lose income or employment during the pandemic. Between March 13, 2020, and March 15, 2021, nearly 60% of Latino adults and 52% of Black adults were in households that lost employment income compared to 42% of white adults.
Between March 2020 and March 2021, the unemployment rate increased by more than 4.6 and 4.7 percentage points for Black and Latino workers, respectively, compared to 2.5 percentage points for white workers. By December 2021, the unemployment rate had improved and was only 1.2 percentage points higher for white workers than it had been in March 2020. However, the unemployment rate was still 2.6 and 2.4 percentage points higher for Black and Latino workers, respectively
It is also imperative that we acknowledge our nation’s history and use it to guide our actions going forward. Historical and ongoing injustices have systematically disadvantaged people of color. White households are more likely than households of color to own their homes due in part to the immense racial wealth gap, which is the product of centuries of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and ubiquitous anti-Black discrimination.
Even after the end of many of these institutions and practices, our society has failed to redress the economic inequalities already engendered by racist policies, and those inequalities persist today. In 2019, the net worth of the median Black household was roughly 13% of the median white household’s net worth, while the median Latino household’s net worth was 19% of the median white household’s net worth. With less access to wealth and fewer sources of credit, fewer people of color are able to purchase homes.
From The Gap 2022:
Many factors kept people of color from being able to purchase homes through the middle of the twentieth century: the pervasive refusal of whites to live in racially integrated neighborhoods; physical violence against people of color who tried to integrate; restrictive covenants – some mandated by the Federal Housing Administration – forbidding home sales to Black homebuyers and preventing the integration of neighborhoods; and federal housing policy that denied borrowers access to credit in minority neighborhoods. Without the ability to purchase homes, people of color were not able to benefit from the appreciation in the value of these homes, a major driver of the racial wealth gap.
While overt discrimination was outlawed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, subtler forms of housing discrimination continue to constrain the options
of people of color. A test of fair housing in 28 metropolitan areas across the country conducted by HUD in 2013 found that Black homebuyers were shown 17.7% fewer homes than white homebuyers with the same qualifications and preferences (HUD, 2013). More recent local fair housing investigations indicate similar unfavorable treatment of people of color, who are often shown fewer homes and not given the same information as white homebuyers (Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, 2018; Choi, Herbert, Winslow, & Browne, 2019). In consequence, 59% of Black households, 48% of AIAN households, 54% of Latino households, and 41% of Asian households are renters, compared to just 28% of white non-Latino households.
We have to demand real solutions other than what is being provided now, which has not worked. The private market cannot sufficiently serve extremely low-income renters. The rents extremely low-income renters can afford do not typically cover the cost of developing new housing or even maintaining older housing.
So what are some solution that can help low-income households? What NLIHC’s research has shown is when you increase resources and housing for extremely low-income households, it produces results.
The chart below shows HUD-assisted share of rental stock and share of severely cost-burdened renter households in the top 50 metropolitan areas in the U.S. Essentially, what it shows it that cities with higher levels of HUD assistance, be it vouchers or other help, have fewer severely cost-burdened households. These includes areas like Providence, RI and Boston, MA. Those areas that have far less resources for renters like Las Vegas, NV and Orlando, FL have far more severely cost-burdened renters.
Here are a few other resources we need to ensure extremely low-income households have access to:
- Expanding resources to the national Housing Trust Fund: Congress should make significant investments in the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF). The House-passed “Build Back Better Act” set a minimum benchmark of $15 billion for the HTF that should be included in a new reconciliation bill.
- Increasing funding for Housing Choice Vouchers: Congress should increase appropriations for rental assistance to improve access to affordable rental homes for low-income families. Congress should make Housing Choice Vouchers universal. Short of universal vouchers, Congress should provide $25 billion to expand rental assistance to an additional 300,000 extremely low-income households in a new reconciliation bill, as was proposed in the House-passed Build Back Better Act.
- In Texas, we must ensure that Source of Income discrimination is eradicated, so vouchers cannot be refused.
- Preserving the existing affordable housing stock:
- Increasing capital investment in public housing: The public housing stock is an important component of the affordable housing supply for our most vulnerable renters, yet it faces a significant backlog of capital repair needs totaling over $70 billion, threatening the quality and continued operation of these homes. At a minimum, Congress should increase annual appropriations for public housing. Congress should also provide $65 billion for public housing preservation in a new reconciliation bill, a benchmark set by the House-passed Build Back Better Act.
- Sufficiently fund the preservation of Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) and USDA rural housing: Some of these homes could be lost from the affordable housing stock without adequate and timely appropriations that, at a minimum, keep pace with inflation.
- Creating an emergency stabilization fund: Given the present shortage of affordable and available homes, many low-income households spend an unsustainable share of their income on housing and are one unexpected financial crisis away from housing instability. An emergency assistance fund that provides for tenants direct, short-term financial assistance would mitigate some of those harms. The implementation of hundreds of state and local ERA programs offers valuable lessons that could be used in efforts to create a permanent emergency assistance fund. The “Eviction Crisis Act” proposed by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rob Portman (R-OH) would create such a fund to provide direct, short-term financial assistance and stability services to low-income households facing eviction or homelessness.
You can read about what low-income households are facing, the solutions above, and more in The Gap 2022. And we want to thank the National Low Income Housing Coalition for their impressive work in this year’s report.