Unemployment, the housing crisis and high rents have contributed to a rising number of households with "worst-case" housing needs, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in a report to Congress.

Residents in an estimated 7.1 million households in 2009 were very-low-income renters who did not receive any housing assistance and paid more than half of their income toward rent and/or lived in severely inadequate conditions — up 20 percent from 2007 and up 42 percent from 2001, according to the HUD report, released this week.

"High rents in proportion to renter incomes are an increasingly dominant cause of worst-case needs," the report concluded.

Families with children represented an estimated 39 percent of all households with worst-case needs, and an estimated 45 percent of all very-low-income Hispanics were considered to have "worst-case needs" in 2009, the report found, compared with 41 percent of all very-low-income renters.

There was "no increase in housing assistance in proportion to the surge in very-low-income renters," the report stated, and the mean gross rent for very-low-income renters grew about 10 percent from 2007-09.

While expected improvements in economic conditions may lead to lower rates of households with worst-case needs, "Nevertheless, when more than 6 percent of the nation’s households experience this form of hardship, the need for prioritizing assisted housing in national policy deliberations has never been greater," concluded the "Worst Case Housing Needs 2009" report.

Regionally, the West had the highest share of households with worst-case needs, at 45.3 percent, followed by the South at 41.9 percent; the Northeast at 39 percent; and the Midwest at 38.9 percent.

Suburbs in the West were a notable hotspot for households with worst-case needs in 2009, at 46.3 percent. And nonmetropolitan areas in the Northeast had the slightest incidence of households with worst-case needs, at 30.4 percent.

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