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Unaffordable Rental Costs: A State-by-State Look

The number of low-income families struggling to afford rental housing has grown dramatically in recent years, as my colleague Will Fischer recently pointed out.  Based on the latest Census Bureau data, our newly updated state-by-state fact sheets on federal rental assistance show that the problem is serious in every state — a fact that federal budget negotiators should keep in mind as they consider cuts that likely would worsen the problem.

In every state, the need for federal rental assistance far exceeds the available funding.  In Arizona and Nevada, for example, roughly five low-income renters have what the Department of Housing and Urban Development terms “severe" housing affordability problems — meaning they pay more than half of their monthly cash income for housing — for every renter who receives assistance.

High housing costs force low-income families to choose between paying their rent and heating bills and covering other basic costs, such as food, transportation to work, medical care, and school supplies for children.

High housing costs also contribute to homelessness, overcrowding, and frequent moves that result in disruptive school changes, all of which can hinder children’s development.  Children in families that are homeless or move frequently are more likely than other low-income children to perform poorly in school or drop out, many studies show.

Unfortunately, federal policymakers last year enacted $900 billion in cuts in funding for “non-defense discretionary” programs, including rental assistance, over the next decade by establishing tight spending caps under the Budget Control Act (BCA).  Funding for this part of the budget is projected to fall over the next decade to its lowest level on record as a share of the economy, with data going back to 1962.

As our recent report explains, the BCA spending caps will make it extraordinarily difficult to continue providing rental assistance to the current number of families — and virtually impossible to serve more families in response to the rise in need.

Further cuts in non-defense programs on top of the BCA cuts would likely force local housing agencies to serve fewer low-income families, with a corresponding rise in homelessness and other hardships.  Congress should reject such outcomes in taking steps to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path.