The affordable housing gap is growing for the nation’s poorest residents.

In 2010, there were 9.8 million extremely low-income renter households but only 3 million rental homes that were affordable and available to them, according to a new analysis by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC).

The result is a staggering deficit of 6.8 million affordable and available units for these households, an increase from 6.4 million in 2009.

The figures paint one of the clearest pictures of the affordable housing shortage in the country.

“I would hope that public officials could be as concerned about this housing crisis as they are about the foreclosure crisis,” said Sheila Crowley, NLIHC president. “The scarcity of affordable rental housing for poor people is of similar consequence as the foreclosure crisis for the people affected and the larger economy. Yet, it remains one of the most neglected areas of public policy.”

Crowley explained that there are millions of families whose incomes are so low and whose housing costs are so high that all it would take is a few days out of work with a sick child or one high heating bill to push them into homelessness.

The coalition reports one in four renter households, or 9.8 million, could be classified as having extremely low incomes in 2010. That’s an increase of nearly 200,000 households from the year before.

For these millions of Americans, affordable housing is a desperate situation, with just 30 affordable and available units per 100 extremely low-income renter households.

Not a single state has an adequate supply of affordable, available rental housing. Nevada has the fewest, with 17 affordable and available units for every 100 extremely low-income renters.

Thirteen states have less than the national level of rental homes affordable and available to extremely low-income people: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The figures look at both affordability and availability. NLIHC points out that an analysis can’t stop at computing just the shortage of affordable units because not all of these units are available. That’s because many of the apartments are often filled by higher-income residents and not open to those most in need. They may also not be available because of their poor condition or may be too far from jobs and transportation. 

But even when looking solely at the number of affordable units, the situation is dire. There were 5.5 million rental units affordable to extremely low-income renters. That’s still an absolute deficit of 4.3 million.

Extremely low-income households are those earning no more than 30 percent of the metropolitan area median family income.

NLIHC says the situation improves somewhat for very low-income households, those earning less than 50 percent of the area median income, but they also face a critical shortage of housing. For this level, there were just 58 affordable and available units per 100 households.

Finally, low-income families are those earning less than 80 percent of the metropolitan area median income. In 2009, there was a slight surplus of affordable and available units for this group, but in 2010 there was a slight shortage, with 98 affordable and available units per 100 low-income renters.

NLIHC’s report on the affordable housing gap was released the same week as President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget proposal. The spending plan includes $1 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund, which was signed into law in 2008 but has yet to be funded. The trust fund would help advocates address the affordable housing shortage by providing money to build, preserve, and rehabilitate rental housing.

“If Congress acts on the president’s budget request for $1 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund, it will be a downpayment on the promise of a decent home for every American,” said Crowley.