By Elizabeth Zach, RCAC staff writer
Nearly a decade after the housing market crisis and collapse, home ownership still remains out of reach for many Americans. The demand for rentals has shot up, and unsurprisingly so have rents, creating an economic catch-22.
In its annual State of the Nation’s Housing report Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) examined how low-income people pay the rent and what assistance is available. The findings were disheartening: most federal housing spending goes to higher-income homeowners who don’t have as much need for financial assistance.
In analyzing the numbers, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities determined that, while the federal government spent $190 billion in 2015 to help Americans buy or rent homes, 60 percent of the total spending went to homeowners through the home mortgage interest deduction and other costs. More than four-fifths of that value benefits homeowners with incomes above $100,000; homeowners who make less may not itemize deductions.
On the other end of the spectrum are “severe housing cost burdened,” or what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development classifies as those who pay more than half of their income – on average, $20,000 per year – for housing. Yet only 22 percent of government spending went to support housing for this more disadvantaged group.
While much of the attention has focused on the housing crisis in urban and metropolitan areas, nonmetropolitan counties have also felt the crunch. More JCHS research revealed that 41 percent of all rural renters are cost-burdened, 21 percent severely; and 22 percent of rural homeowners are cost-burdened, 9 percent severely.
“This research shows empirically what we have seen in rural communities throughout the West,” said Michael Carroll, RCAC director of lending and housing. “There is an urgent need to increase federal, state and local resources to increase the supply of affordable housing for the least well off among us.”
Between 2000 and 2014, every western state except Wyoming has seen an increase in the number of nonmetropolitan counties where renters and homeowners pay at least 30 percent of their household income for housing.
In the rural West, the trend has only worsened during the past decade and a half. Between 2000 and 2014, every western state except Wyoming has seen an increase in the number of nonmetropolitan counties where renters and homeowners pay at least 30 percent of their household income for housing. In Colorado, the number of counties nearly tripled, from 11 in 2000 to 28 in 2014. In California, the number of counties nearly doubled from 11 in 2000 to 20 in 2014. Washington, Idaho and Oregon saw significant increases, from six to 14 in Washington and from three to 13 in Idaho and Oregon. In Utah, the number of counties quadrupled, from one to four. Nevada and Utah saw increases from one to three counties. New Mexico increased from three to four.
Rural areas also have a higher percentage of households living in poverty, and face other challenges including inadequate housing stock and higher overcrowding rates.
Children of low-income families, according to the study, are especially vulnerable to this imbalance, which leads to more frequent moves, overcrowding, homelessness and children being placed in foster care.