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Many low- to middle-income Americans move in together out of financial need rather than personal choice, often inflicting an emotional and physical toll, according to a new survey.

About 44% of the respondents reported that they, a friend, or a family member is in a co-living arrangement mainly for financial reasons.

The NHP Foundation (NHPF), a nonprofit provider of affordable housing, asked 500 people to describe these types of living arrangements and what, if any, hardships are associated with them.

The highest percentage (52%) of those reporting a financially driven co-living situation are individuals with a total household income of less than $50,000 a year, and 50% of that group entered into such situations less than two years ago, according to NHPF.

Of those queried, 51% were male and 41% female (non-binary individuals and those preferring not to say totaled less than 3% of respondents). Over half (51%) were between 18 and 34 years with nearly 40% between 35 and 54. Regionally, the highest percentage (65%) of those living together mainly for financial reasons reside in the West region (those states west of Texas).

When asked which factors most contributed to a financially motivated co-living arrangement, several responses stood out, including inability to afford to pay rent independently (54%), job loss (48%), circumstances caused by COVID-19 (40%), and shortage of available housing (35%).

Nearly 1 Out of Every 5 People Report Emotional and/or Physical Abuse

While nearly one-third (29%) of those queried consider their situation “very positive” and another third as “somewhat positive,” the final third considers their living situation “neutral to negative,” with disturbing consequences and implications. Respondents believe that financially forced living situations result in unequal sharing of responsibilities (47%), jealousy (37%), mental stress (42%), depression (37%), and, most concerning of all, physical and emotional abuse (19%), reported NHPF.

Data from the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice reveals that the number of domestic violence incidents in the U.S. increased by 8.1% after lockdown orders.

When asked how helpful landlords, resident services providers, or management companies could be in alleviating the negative impacts of such living arrangements, over 60% of those queried rank on-site or nearby services most highly (“extremely/very helpful”), including child care, mental health counseling, and financial and/or employment counseling.

Overall, residents in service-enriched affordable housing (permanent rental housing in which social services are available on-site or by referral through a supportive services program or resident services coordinator) experience gains in areas such as financial literacy, academic achievement, job retention, and more.

Respondents were also asked about government actions that can best alleviate the need for financially motivated co-living relationships. Automatic financial aid at the outset of a crisis and increased affordable housing, specifically housing that is more resilient—built to withstand financial, natural, and medical crises—were both cited by 65% of the respondents followed by zoning that changes that create more affordable housing options at 60%.

“Experts agree access to affordable, resilient housing will ensure that people can afford to live with those they choose rather than by what their finances dictate,” according to Richard F. Burns, president and CEO of NHPF.

7 Strategies to Increase Access to Affordable Housing

NHPF has developed seven strategies to ensure individuals and families can attain and maintain affordable housing.

1, Foster Creation/Expansion of Automatic Stabilizers for the Housing Market
- Make the Tax Credit Exchange Program permanent to facilitate the exchange or return of unused tax credits for cash grants in the event the low-income housing tax credit market (LIHTC) should bottom out, as occurs during severe economic downturns;
- Automatically increase housing voucher allocations when unemployment rates cross a certain threshold, injecting much-needed capital into affordable housing markets while supporting residents in a timely fashion; and
- Tailor these automatic stabilizers to fit the needs of all stakeholders while side-stepping the often arduous congressional approvals needed for fresh legislation to address individual crises.

2. Make Local, Flexible Policy Shifts to Enable Production and Preservation
- Change zoning density limits enabling multifamily properties;
- Increase accessory dwelling units on existing single-family lots;
- Generate local affordable housing funds to augment state and federal resources for the purpose of developing or preserving affordable rental housing; and
- Address market differences. Explore raising income thresholds for eligibility in some high-cost markets, as even many moderate-income households find themselves housing cost-burdened.

3. Redouble Efforts to Assist All Underserved Populations
- Increase funding for voucher-based programs benefiting residents with low incomes; and
- Revisit income thresholds for various affordability programs.

4. Enhance Capital Support
- Lobby for increased funding of LIHTC, the Capital Magnet Fund, National Housing Trust Fund, and other programs that facilitate development and preservation of more affordable rental units; and
- Seek ways to “bake in” funding for critical on-site resident services.

5. Break Down Barriers to Increase Collaborative Efforts
- Deepen subsidies for developments to be both affordable and economically viable;
- Encourage public, philanthropic, and private sector to increase their financial roles;
- Tweak regulations to enable programs to augment each other in a relatively seamless way; and
- Revisit regulations to make them more consistent across programs. Aligning program rules can make it easier for private-sector actors to work in partnership with the public sector producing greater impacts.

6. Be Open to Bold, New Funding Ideas
- Consider cryptocurrency. Miami introduced its local cryptocurrency, Miami Coin, which “in under 60 days, generated about $7.5 million for the city and can be used for affordable housing;” and
- Look to other countries. Learn from policies which support stable, affordable rental housing. In these case studies on rental housing specifically in six developed countries, the U.S. stands out as “having spent the least amount of GDP on housing compared to other rich countries.”

7. Capitalize on a Readiness to Address Racial Inequity
- Pursue policies and programs at all levels of government to reverse decades of redlining, home appraisal discrimination, and unequal access to quality housing; and
- Invest in long underserved populations and places. Among other things, there is a consensus recommendation for strong enforcement and potential expansion of anti-discrimination legislation such as the Fair Housing Act and the Community Reinvestment Act.