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Rental Cost Crisis Worsens as Ownership Improves

The percentage of renters paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs is increasing while cost-burned homeowners are decreasing, according to the 2014 State of the Nation’s Housing report released yesterday by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

On the owner side, the number of households facing cost burdens has fallen steadily as high foreclosure rates have pushed out many financially strained owners, low interest rates have allowed remaining owners to reduce their housing costs, and the average age of new homeowners has increased.

As of 2014, the number of cost-burdened owners stood at 18.5 million, down 4.4 million since 2008. The decline has occurred across all age groups, but especially among younger homeowners. Homeowners age 75 and over, however, are among the most cost-burdened groups, with their share at 29 percent compared with 24 percent for households under age 45. With the aging baby boomers swelling the ranks of older homeowners and larger shares of households carrying mortgage debt into retirement, the problem of housing cost burdens among the elderly is likely to grow.

Among renters, the number of cost-burdened households rose by 3.6 million from 2008 to 2014, to 21.3 million. Even more troubling, the number with severe burdens (paying more than 50 percent of income for housing) jumped by 2.1 million to a record 11.4 million. The severely burdened share among the nation’s 9.6 million lowest-income renters (earning less than $15,000) is particularly high at 72 percent. In all but a small share of markets, at least half of lowest-income renters have severe housing cost burdens (While nearly universal among lowest-income households, cost burdens are rapidly spreading among moderate-income households as well, especially in higher-cost coastal markets.

“As it is, however, the need for more affordable rental housing is urgent. The record number of renters paying more than half their incomes for housing underscores the growing gap between market-rate costs and the rents that millions of households can afford. Governments at all levels must redouble their efforts to expand the affordable supply. And with growing recognition that children’s lifelong achievement rests on stable, safe, and healthy living conditions, policymakers must also ensure better access of minority and low-income households to higher opportunity communities.,” the report concluded.

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