Cost of Low-Income Family Housing Sky-Rockets

A photo of the outside of an apartment building.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Robert Doyle/

The number of low-income families spending more than half their income on housing increased by 76 percent between 1997 and 2003, according to a recently released National Housing Conference Study.

NHC defines “affordable housing” as housing that costs up to one-third of a family’s income. A family is considered to have a critical housing need if they are paying more than half their income for housing or if they live in very dilapidated buildings.

In 2003, approximately one in eight American households had critical housing needs. According to the study, the highest rates of critical housing needs have occurred in the West and the Northeast regions of the United States since 1997.

In 2003, the median price for a Boston home was 315,000. According to NHC statistics, a family would need an annual income of at least 98,000 to afford such a home. The number of enters with critical housing needs was similar. To afford a two-bedroom apartment, the combined family hourly wage needed would be around $26 per hour.

Affordable housing is even more of a challenge for some immigrant families, according to the study. Immigrant families, rather than native-born ones, were more likely to have a critical housing need. The rates of critical needs for immigrant families declined only slightly with the length of time the immigrant families have been living in the United States. Over one-third of such immigrant families come from Mexico, the study found. Mexican immigrants are much more likely to be living in crowded living conditions.

The lack of affordable housing is not just an urban problem; a slightly higher percentage of working families with critical housing needs resided in the suburbs. This phenomenon has compounded the problem and added transportation costs to the housing costs.

The cost of housing and transportation together take up two-thirds of the household budget for families who pay more than half of their income for housing, according to a second NHC study released recently.

“People are finding jobs outside the city, and they often don’t have the luxury of their own cars,” Frost said. “They must depend on the public transportation system, which is way behind the times.”

Working families are more likely to depend on more than one wage earner, according to the study. In addition, they are more likely to be headed by a female and comprised of minorities.

“Housing subsidies need to be targeted to those areas,” Frost said. “The reality is, the poorest of the poor, and even those working above minimum wage will require subsidies, both at the state and federal level, in order to make a living.”

Reprinted from Spare Change News in Boston

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