WASHINGTON, D.C.—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 this week.

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.

The study notes that higher-income renters occupy about 42 percent of the units that are affordable to extremely low-income renters, who earn less than 30 percent of the area median income.

The need cut across all geographic regions and across all racial groups, said Bostic during a call with reporters.

Every racial group experienced increases in worst-case housing needs during the recent two-year period, with Hispanic households having the largest increase in incidence.

The problem is also seen across different household types. HUD reports that worst-case needs are an increasing problem for families with children. In 2009, the number of renters with children and very low incomes increased by 430,000 from the 2007 level. The number of worst-case needs for this group grew even more, increasing by 550,000 cases during the same period.

Among very low-income renters with children, the 40.5 percent incidence of worst-case needs is up sharply from the 34.6 percent incidence in 2007.

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 Recovery Act’s Tax Credit Assistance Program and Public Housing Capital Fund.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.