The Department of Housing and Urban Development today reported the number of low-income households paying excessive rent or living in substandard conditions remains essentially unchanged from the mid-1990s.

In its “Affordable Housing Needs” report to Congress, HUD found that in 2003, a total of 5.18 million low-income households experienced critical housing needs compared to 5.2 million households in 1995.

Households with “worst-case needs” are defined as unassisted renters with very low incomes (below 50 percent of area median income) who pay more than half their income for housing or live in severely substandard conditions, HUD said. HUD’s most recent survey finds that the number of such households has remained stable over time. The proportion of American families that have these worst-case needs is 4.89 percent.

“This survey tells us that while the number of American households that experience these greatest needs remains fairly constant, it’s still too high,” said Darlene Williams, HUD’s assistant secretary for policy development and research. “This affordability survey reminds us that there are some households who continue paying a disproportionate amount on rent or who live in conditions nobody would want to call home.”

Among HUD’s other findings:

  • The share of households with worst case needs who live in severely inadequate housing declined from 4.6 percent in 2001 to 3.9 percent in 2003.

  • Despite changes in poverty rates, rent levels and the numbers of households receiving housing assistance, the proportion of households with worst-case needs has been stable over the entire survey period, approximately five percent in most years since 1991, the year of the first report on affordable housing needs.

  • Severe rent burden, not severely inadequate housing, is the only priority-housing problem for most (91 percent) households with worst-case needs.

  • While all regions of the country share in affordable housing needs, very low-income renters in the West are less likely to receive housing assistance (24 percent) and more likely to experience worst-case housing needs (38 percent).

  • More than one-third of very low-income renters in central cities and suburbs experience worst-case needs compared to approximately one-fourth of very low-income renters in rural areas.

  • 41 percent of families with children that have affordable housing needs have earnings consistent with full-time work at low wages.

  • Of the 5.18 million households with affordable housing needs, 2.76 million are non-Hispanic white households, 1.04 million are non-Hispanic black households, and 1.04 million are Hispanic households.

To help answer the affordable housing challenge, HUD launched “America’s Affordable Communities Initiative” in 2003 to encourage local communities to reduce or eliminate excessive, unnecessary and burdensome regulations that can significantly restrict the development and availability of affordable housing. These barriers can hamper housing rehabilitation, limit supply and raise the cost of new development by up to 35 percent. As a result, millions of Americans are priced out of buying or renting the kind of housing they otherwise could afford.


Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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