The nation's “worst-case housing needs” soared by nearly 1.2 million households, or more than 20 percent, from 2007 to 2009, revealed the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in a report to Congress.

That's the largest two-year increase seen by officials since at least 1985 when HUD began reporting this data, according to Raphael Bostic, HUD's assistant secretary for policy development and research.

The recent rise reflects the hardships caused by the recent recession. As more families struggled with unemployment and diminishing incomes, many joined the ranks of new very low-income renters.

Although the recent increase has been the sharpest, there has been an overall upward trend, with the number of worst-case housing needs increasing by 42 percent since 2001.

These households are defined as very low-income renters who do not receive government housing assistance and who either paid more than half of their income for rent or lived in severely inadequate conditions, or both.

The number of renters experiencing worst-case needs grew to 7.1 million in 2009. That's 41 percent of very low-income renters, according to “Worst Case Housing Needs 2009: Report to Congress."

Competition for affordable rental units has played the biggest role in the increase, according to the report.

“This competition leads to displacement, absorption of vacancies, and upward pressure on rents,” said the report. “Supply and demand factors caused the mean gross rent for very low-income renters to increase by more than 10 percent during 2007-2009."

In addition, the number of vacant units affordable to them dropped by 370,000.

Only 36 of every 100 extremely low-income renters have affordable units available to them.

HUD leaders stressed that they have taken a number of key steps to respond to the need for affordable housing.

They reported that nearly 341,000 units of affordable housing are being rehabilitated or built through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009's Tax Credit Assistance Program and Public Housing Capital Fund.

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