A record 8.53 million renter households had “worst-case needs” in 2021, according to new data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
An increase of 760,000 cases from 2019, the latest number comes about a year and a half after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout.
Renter households are defined as having worst-case needs for such housing if they have very low incomes—household incomes at or below 50% of the area median income (AMI), do not receive government housing assistance, and either pay more than one-half of their income for rent or live in severely inadequate conditions, or both.
HUD released an executive summary of its “Worst Case Housing Needs: 2023 Report to Congress,” which examines trends in and causes of worst-case housing needs using data from the 2021 American Housing Survey (AHS). The full report will be released in September.
Although the AHS data collection does not capture the effect of the one-time stimulus payments or the Emergency Rental Assistance program, government relief measures provided over the pandemic helped to offset the dire needs of many families with worst-case needs, according to the report.
The report attributes the the notable increase in worst-case housing needs to household formation (new households formed as a result of population increase), the widening of the rental assistance gap for eligible very low-income households, and the continuing shortage of affordable rental housing.
Despite the troubling trend, officials earlier reported that fewer people entered a shelter program in 2021 and sheltered homelessness overall decreased by 17% between 2019 and 2021.
This also may be attributed to federal interventions that helped stabilize housing during the pandemic. When those supports expired, the nation began to see a rise in homelessness.
“HUD’s reports show what happens when the federal government invests in safety net programs that help keep households living on the edge of homelessness afloat,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition in a statement. “However, as pandemic protections expire and resources are depleted, more households already teetering on the edge will be pushed into homelessness.”
To fully address the affordable housing and homelessness crises, Congress must provide the significant, long-term investments needed to make rental assistance universally available; preserve and expand the existing affordable housing stock; fund a permanent emergency rental assistance program; and implement robust tenant protections, according to Yentel.