Housing challenges and prevalence of cost burdens



PREVALENCE OF COST BURDENS After three consecutive years of declines, the total number of housing cost-burdened households (paying more than 30 per- cent of income for housing) ticked up to 39.8 million in 2014. More than a third of US households faced cost burdens, includ- ing 16.5 percent with severe burdens (paying more than 50 per- cent of income for housing).

Driving this increase is the growing number of cost-burdened renters, which jumped from 20.8 million in 2013 to a record 21.3 million in 2014 (Figure 32). Worse still, more than half of these renters—11.4 million households—were severely burdened. These affordability pressures reflect the divergence between renter housing costs and renter incomes since 2001, with real median rental costs climbing 7 percent and real median renter incomes falling 9 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of cost-burdened homeowners declined for the fourth straight year in 2014, down 2 percent. This brought the share of cost-burdened homeowners to 25 percent, its lowest point in over a decade. Unlike renter hous- ing costs, owner housing costs fell 13 percent between 2010 and 2014, thanks in part to low interest rates but also to the fact that foreclosures forced many cost-burdened owners out of their homes.

Cost burdens remain nearly universal among lowest-income households (earning under $15,000), with 83 percent paying more than 30 percent of their incomes for housing in 2014. Most of these households were severely burdened, including 72 per- cent of renters and 66 percent of owners.

But households with moderate incomes are also burdened by high housing costs. Indeed, the cost-burdened rate among rent- ers earning $30,000–44,999 edged up from 47 percent in 2010 to 48 percent in 2014, while the cost-burdened rate among renters earning $45,000–74,999 held at the 2010 peak of 21 percent. Moreover, in the 10 metros with the highest median housing costs, three-quarters of renter households earning $30,000–44,999 and half of those earning $45,000–74,999 were cost burdened in 2014.

While easing among home-

owners, housing cost burdens are

a fact of life for a growing number

of renters. These burdens put

households at risk of housing

instability and homelessness,

particularly in the nation’s high-

cost cities. Meanwhile, growing

income inequality and the

concentration of poverty have

fueled an increase in residential

segregation. With dwindling

federal subsidies, state and local

governments are struggling

to preserve and expand the

supply of good-quality affordable

housing in all neighborhoods.

Reducing carbon emissions from

the residential sector is not only

a national challenge but a global


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