The U.S. housing crisis has been made even worse during the pandemic, with middle-income households of frontline workers being impacted most significantly, according to a new study from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Terwilliger Center for Housing.

The real estate and land use nonprofit’s Terwilliger Center 2021 Home Attainability Index, which was released on Monday, reveals gaps in the ability for people in the U.S. to attain housing across geographic, racial and socioeconomic lines.

This is the first official year of the index (a pilot index was released in 2020), which measured 30 housing and equity-related data points across five categories: overall affordability, homeownership attainability, rental attainability, neighborhood opportunity and access and housing production.

According to the Index’s occupational analysis, the pandemic has led to a heightened risk of housing shortages for healthcare workers, frontline workers and any workers with an increased risk of interrupted income. For instance, a median-wage geriatric nurse, cardiac technician or long-haul delivery truck driver could only afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment in more than 50 percent of regions analyzed.

Michael Spotts | Credit: LinkedIn

“Patterns of housing insecurity and racial and socioeconomic inequality that existed prior to COVID-19 have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the associated economic downturn,” Michael A. Spotts, the report’s author and visiting research fellow with the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing, said in a statement. “We are staring in the face of a situation in which many of the people who were critical in getting the population at large through this crisis face years of economic uncertainty and hardship as the country recovers.”

Overall, the ULI Terwilliger Center found that, among middle-income households, those that are most greatly cost-burdened are located in the most populated metro areas in the country (those exceeding 4.2 million people).

Still, the ULI noted, the dearth of attainable homes for this socioeconomic group is a widespread issue across the U.S., as is the ability for low-income individuals to find attainable rentals.

Toledo, Cleveland and Cincinnati, Ohio; Birmingham, Alabama; Charlotte and Winston-Salem, North Carolina; St. Louis, Missouri; Scranton, Pennsylvania; and Louisville, Kentucky all scored high on affordability, but those strong rankings were offset by poor equity rankings (poor racial and income integration).

Meanwhile, San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside and Stockton California; Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado; Portland, Oregon; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Seattle, Washington, all ranked low on affordability, but had strong housing equity rankings.

Furthermore, the study found that segregation along socioeconomic and racial lines is a widespread issue across different market sizes and geographical regions. Only Colorado Springs, Honolulu and Las Vegas scored “low” on the Index’s measurement of racial segregation levels, for instance. (Even so, this particular metric does not account for a region’s overall diversity.)

Across all metrics, Ogden-Clearfield, Utah, performed better than the data set median for most of the Index’s metrics, making it the best metro overall for home attainability. Out of the 50 most populous metro areas, San Antonio, Texas, and Pittsburgh were the only metros that surpassed the median performance of the data set across at least two-thirds of the Index’s metrics.

Email Lillian Dickerson

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