The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s newly released report, The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes 2021, finds a housing shortage of over 122,000 affordable and available rental homes for extremely low income households in Missouri. Nationally, 7 million of our nation’s extremely low-income renter households, who make up one quarter of all renters in the U.S. will be unable to secure housing which is affordable to them. This severe shortage forces 70% of our poorest families—seniors, people with disabilities, and low-wage families—to spend more than half of their incomes on rent and utilities, leaving them with insufficient resources for food, clothing, transportation, medical care, and other basic necessities.
Already in a precarious situation before COVID-19, these households have faced life-threatening challenges during the pandemic. The vast majority of jobs lost in 2020 were held by wage earners in the bottom 25% of the wage distribution, and as of January over a fourth of the lowest-income renters were behind on their rent. Epidemiologists have found that evictions can put households at greater risk of infection, since households without a place of their own often must double-up or enter the shelter system. Now more than ever, it is clear that housing stability is a matter of life and death. During the crisis, a universal eviction moratorium protecting all renters and easily accessible emergency rental assistance programs for those with the lowest incomes are life-saving protections.
Even before the pandemic, though, the lowest-income households struggled with a severe shortage of affordable housing. The greatest need for affordable housing is concentrated among extremely low-income renter households, who earn no more than the federal poverty line or 30% of their area median income. Only 43 affordable and available homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households in Missouri. No state has an adequate supply of rental homes affordable and available for extremely low-income households. The shortage ranges from 7,500 rental homes in Wyoming to nearly one million in California. The result is housing instability, evictions, and in the worst cases, homelessness.
This shortage is the foreseeable product of our political and economic system, and we owe it to our neighbors to ensure universal housing assistance. We must expand and preserve the affordable housing supply. Greater investments are needed in both the National Housing Trust Fund (HTF) and the Missouri HTF, the first program in a generation dedicated to building and preserving housing for people with the lowest incomes, and public housing, which provides homes to more than 1 million low-income families. We need to expand and reform the Low Income Housing Tax Credit to better serve renters with the greatest need for assistance. We also need to provide assistance to renters so they can afford housing on the private market. We should fully fund the Housing Choice Voucher program, which provides assistance to low- income renters seeking homes in the private market, so that every eligible family receives assistance. Because modest temporary assistance can help some households stay in their homes after an unexpected emergency, Congress should create a permanent National Housing Stabilization Fund. Finally, legislation is needed to better protect renters and correct the imbalance of power that tilts so heavily against tenants and in favor of landlords. Congress and the Missouri legislature should start by ensuring a right to legal representation during evictions and prohibiting source-of-income discrimination for voucher holders.
Our policy makers must act to address the critical shortage of affordable housing for those with the lowest incomes in America laid out in The Gap. Together we can — and must — act to end homelessness and housing poverty in America.
Policy and Advocacy Director