The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s newly released report, The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes, documents a shortage of 7 million affordable and available rental homes for our nation’s lowest-income renters, who make up one quarter of all renters in the U.S. This severe shortage forces 71% of our poorest families – seniors, people with disabilities, and low-wage workers – to spend more than half of their incomes on rent and utilities, leaving them unable to afford food, transportation, medical care, and other basic necessities. These workers are our neighbors, friends and family. They work in the hospitality industry that makes communities like ours thrive. These households have little or no savings to weather even the smallest emergencies. The pandemic has only made the need for affordable housing more apparent.
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 36 affordable and available homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households nationwide. No state has an adequate supply of rental homes affordable and available for extremely low-income households. In Missouri, 43 affordable and available homes exist for every 100 of the lowest-income renter households and 86.6% of these renters are severely cost-burdened as a result.
The lowest-income renters were uniquely positioned to suffer disproportionately from the effects of lost income and housing insecurity during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, 60% of the lowest income renters in the labor force worked in industries identified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as the most impacted by pandemic shutdowns. Even before the pandemic, the lowest-income renters faced the greatest shortages of affordable housing, the most severe cost burdens, and consequently the most serious housing instability. At one point – in January 2021 – nearly 8 million renters were behind on rent.
The federal government took unprecedented actions to protect the lowest-income renters from housing instability. These actions, though, were temporary. Most eviction moratoriums have been lifted and resources such as federal emergency rental assistance are running out in many areas. Longer-term federal investments in affordable housing are needed to combat the underlying shortage of affordable housing that exposed the lowest-income renters to housing instability in the first place.
Longer-term federal housing subsidies are needed for the lowest-income renters, because the private market fails to produce an adequate supply of affordable housing on its own. The rents the lowest-income renters can afford to pay do not typically cover the cost of developing new housing or even maintaining older housing. Because the market consistently fails to provide adequate, affordable housing for these renters, the government has an essential role in correcting this failure.
In Missouri, there is significant work to be done. There are several bills in the current legislative session that involve affordable housing. HB 2614 just passed committee and was voted to move to the full House for a final vote. This bill will criminalize homelessness and potentially defund direct service workers currently assisting the unhoused population. HB 1682 specifically bans courts from suspending eviction proceedings of their own initiative without authorization from a state law. Allowing courts and other federal agencies to halt evictions keeps families together, safe and housed.
Congress must make significant, long-term investments in deeply affordable housing programs such as the national Housing Trust Fund, Housing Choice Vouchers, the use of land banks and public housing. Congress should retain in a new reconciliation package the historic investments in these programs that were included in the House-passed “Build Back Better Act.” As The Gap demonstrates, the housing crisis for the lowest-income renters will persist long after the pandemic without such investments.