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Lowest-Income Renters Left Behind in Housing Crisis

by Robbie WhelanThe Wall Street Journal
February 15th, 2012

The foreclosure crisis has been a four-year nightmare for many homeowners, more than 3 million of whom have lost their homes. Many of these ex-homeowners are middle class people with jobs and safety nets, and have become renters or traded down for more inexpensive homes after losing their primary residences.

But for the very poor, options are limited, and the situation is dire, according to a report out Wednesday from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Using data from the Commerce Department’s American Community Survey, the advocacy group found that for every 100 extremely low income families, there are only 30 affordable units available for rent nationwide. The number of these ELI renters grew by 200,000 between 2009 and 2010, to 9.8 million, or nearly a quarter of all the renters in the U.S. Extremely low income renters are defined as families that earn less than 30% of the median income in their metropolitan area. These people typically depend on government assistance to buy food and health care as well. But the danger with these types of renters is that after paying their rent, these households will have less than 50% of their income remaining to spend on food, medicine, transportation and childcare.

“What we’ve seen is a decline in the homeownership rate since 2008, and we’ve seen rent being pushed up,” pushing market-rate housing out of reach for an increasing number of people, said NLIHC chief executive Sheila Crowley in an interview. The gap between supply of affordable rental housing and demand from extremely-low income borrowers exists in all 50 states, but the problem is worst in Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Michigan. “Where you have the biggest problems is where you have the biggest difference between rich and poor,” Ms. Crowley said.

The imbalance comes at a time when the federal government, hobbled by budget deficits and deadlocks in Congress, is unlikely to increase its support for poor renters. In its projected 2013 budget, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed that it was requesting just $2 billion for the production of affordable housing for low- to extremely low-income families and disabled people, and reported that there is a $26 billion shortfall in the agency’s capital needs.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a gap, and it’s significant, and it’s getting worse,” said Becky Koepnick, an advisor to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. About 2 million low-income renters have gotten housing through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, a Treasury and IRS program launched in the mid-1980s, Ms. Koepnick noted, but that program is not targeted at the lowest-income renters that the NLIHC is focusing on.

The bottom line is, as more and more low-income people demand inexpensive rental housing, the market and the government are increasingly unable to meet their needs, the NLIHC says.

Of course, many low-income people turn to government programs other than publicly-built housing, such as rental assistance and housing voucher programs. But the other big fear is that more people will fall into homelessness or be forced to double up with family members or live in substandard conditions.

The NLIHC also called for funding to be given to the National Housing Trust Fund, a HUD program established in 2008 to produce more low-income housing that has yet to be funded.

FAIR USE NOTICE. Tenants Together is not the author of this article and the posting of this document does not imply any endorsement of the content by Tenants Together.  This document may contain copyrighted material the use of which may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Tenants Together is making this article available on our website in an effort to advance the understanding of tenant rights issues in California. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

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