A new report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) adds to the mounting evidence that housing has become a major financial burden for the poorest Americans.

HUD’s Worst Case Housing Needs report, released this week, finds that the number of very poor unsubsidized families who have a hard time paying their monthly rent and who live in substandard housing increased between 2013 and 2015.  HUD says that in 2015, 8.3 million very low-income unassisted families paid more than half their monthly income for rent, lived in severely substandard housing or both.

“Two years ago, our nation was still feeling the aftershocks of our housing recession with rents growing faster than many families’ incomes,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson.  “After years of trying to keep up with rising rents, it’s time we take a more holistic look at how government at every level, working with the private market and others, can ease the pressure being felt by too many un-assisted renters.  Today’s affordable rental housing crisis requires that we take a more business-like approach on how the public sector can reduce the regulatory barriers so the private markets can produce more housing for more families.”

Demand for affordable housing is growing faster than affordable homes can be built, especially in the most expensive, job-rich areas of the country.

“The new report from HUD showing that more than 8.3 million very-low-income households spend more than half their income on rent or live in substandard housing is a painful reminder of the acute affordable housing crisis confronting our nation,” said Granger MacDonald, chair of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder and developer from Kerrville, Texas. “Other studies, such as the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies report on the state of the nation’s housing, show an even higher number of households are severely cost burdened. Congress and the Trump administration need to make it a top priority to enact policies that will promote the construction of sorely needed rental apartments.”

Worst Case Housing Needs are defined as renters with very low incomes (below half the median in their area) who don’t get government housing assistance and who either paid more than half their monthly income for rent, lived in severely substandard conditions, or both. HUD’s report finds that housing needs cut across all regions of the country and include all racial and ethnic groups, regardless of whether they live in cities, suburbs or rural areas. In addition, HUD found that large numbers of worst case needs also appear in many types of households, including those  with children, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

Based on data from the 2015 American Housing Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of these “Worst Case Housing Needs” increased from 2013 yet remain lower than the nearly 8.5 million households reported in 2011.

A Legislative Solution?

Last week, NAHB called on Congress to pass the Affordable Housing Credit Improvements Act of 2017 (S. 548), a bill that would push for the construction of more rental apartments and help ease the affordable housing crisis in the U.S.

MacDonald told the Senate Finance Committee during testimony that the country must increase  housing production to meet this growing need.

“S. 548, a bipartisan bill championed by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), takes a significant and needed step to boosting supply by increasing Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) allocations by 50 percent,” said MacDonald. “Enacting this bill is expected to result in an additional 400,000 LIHTC units over the next 10 years. NAHB estimates that added construction would increase federal tax revenue by $11.6 billion and state and local revenues by $5.6 billion.”

More than one in four of all renters in the U.S. are severely cost burdened, according to the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“Fees, regulatory compliance, modern building and energy codes, building materials, land and labor costs determine whether a project is financial viable,” said MacDonald. “If we want to provide affordable rental housing for lower-income households, we cannot do so without a subsidy.”

This is why NAHB believes that LIHTC, a public-private partnership, could be a powerful weapon to ease the crisis. The program has produced and financed more than 2.9 million affordable apartments for low-income families, seniors and individuals with special needs since it was launched in 1986.

Additionally, the tax credit is an vital job creator. It would generate approximately $7.1 billion in economic income and roughly 95,000 jobs each year across several industries, according to NAHB.

The proposed legislation would further promote the building of affordable housing by permanently locking in the 4 percent credit rate for acquisition and bond-financed projects. That would provide more certainty and flexibility in financing these properties. In addition, the legislation would use energy tax incentives in combination with LIHTCs to fight local opposition to affordable housing projects by prohibiting local approval and contribution requirements.

“The nation lacks enough affordable housing for hard-working families,” said MacDonald. “The only effective long-term solution is to increase supply. Passing this bipartisan legislation would greatly enhance our ability to meet the growing demand for more affordable rental units.”

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