Nearly 65 million low-income people–24 percent of the entire U.S. population–are experiencing housing problems, including cost burdens, substandard conditions, overcrowding or homelessness, according to a report released Thursday from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The most common housing problem is cost burden, with 55.5 million low-income people paying more than 30 percent of income towards housing, according to “America’s Neighbors: The Affordable Housing Crisis and the People it Affects.”

Of all Americans, 95 million–a full one-third of the population–have one or more housing problem. Of these people, 43.6 million have incomes below $25,000. This compares to 41 million Americans without health insurance in 2001, 14.5 million of whom have incomes below $25,000.

People with extremely low incomes (30 percent or below of the area median income) have the most severe housing problems: 73.7 percent of all extremely low-income households are cost burdened (58.1 percent severely cost burdened and 15.6 percent moderately cost burdened). It is not just renter households who face challenges; 30.2 million low-income people in owner households have housing problems.

Children are disproportionately vulnerable to housing problems. While children make up 29 percent of all low-income people, 32 percent of the low-income people with housing problems are children.

“For too long, the true extent of the housing crisis in America has been hidden,” said NLIHC President Sheila Crowley. “We need to look past the front door to the people inside low-income households to understand how serious the problem really is.”

The findings come at a time when federal housing assistance is under attack from the Bush Administration. President Bush’s budget for fiscal year 2005 allocates more than $1.6 billion too little to fund all housing vouchers currently in use, which could result in the loss of 250,000 vouchers, according to a press statement.

In addition, President Bush proposes to radically restructure the Housing Choice Voucher program in a way that would result in funding cuts of up to 40 percent by 2009–meaning a loss of 800,000 vouchers, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found.

Under the proposal, current voucher holders who use their vouchers for rental assistance have no assurance they would not lose their assistance. Indeed, given that PHAs would be under pressure to serve the same number of families with fewer dollars, families with extremely low-incomes could be at risk of losing their vouchers to families with higher incomes.

The voucher program, also known as Section 8, was created under the Nixon Administration. The program has been embraced by advocates and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as a flexible, market-based way to address the gap between what families earn and what housing costs. Under the program, low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities receive vouchers to give to private landlords that generally make up the difference between 30 percent of the household’s income and the cost of the rental unit. The voucher program is the largest federal low-income housing program.

Currently, the voucher program serves 2.05 million low-income households. More than half (53 percent) of all voucher holders are families with children. Another 40 percent are seniors or people with disabilities. About 40 percent earn wages, while most others rely on disability or retirement income. There is a serious shortage of vouchers, and only a fraction of eligible households receive them. Most families seeking assistance face a several year wait. In larger cities, waiting lists can be as long as eight to 10 years. Only about one-fourth of eligible families currently receive any type of federal housing assistance. “I’ve been in housing for 20 years, and President Bush’s proposal is the worst for a housing program I’ve ever seen,” said Bill Faith, executive director of Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio and NLIHC board president.

Further, the threat to the voucher program is the most serious faced by any federal program that assists people with low incomes, said CBPP Executive Director Robert Greenstein. “This would be the most severe cut in a low-income program since the early years of the Reagan Administration.”


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