With tens of thousands of American workers laid off due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and with major health restrictions continuing to curtail economic activity, housing challenges have multiplied for most low- and moderate-income Americans. For more on those unprecedented housing challenges, please click on Covid-Related Eviction Concerns Increase as Courts Reopen

The enormity of America’s long-term housing challenges—even after the pandemic’s effects are brought under control—are suggested by the latest statistics produced before the pandemic began. The already-high percentage of American renter households that were housing cost-burdened was getting higher. Also, U.S. housing production was considered unlikely to catch up to household formation in the foreseeable future, according to Yardi Matrix (a real estate consulting company that monitors the nation’s largest (50+ unit) apartment buildings).

As to the increasing  percentage of renters who already were housing cost-burdened (most low- and moderate-income Americans rent their housing), ApartmentList (a nationwide, rental apartment information service) found that:

  • The share of American renter households that were cost-burdened increased from 49.5 percent in 2017 to 49.7 percent in 2018—the first increase in that rate since 2014. (There were approximately 44 million renter households in the United States.)
  • The number of cost-burdened renter households increased by 299,000 from 2017 to 2018, and that number is now 2.8 million higher than in 2008.
  • The median rent grew faster than the median renter income for the first time since 2011.

Yardi Matrix reported a cumulative deficit in housing production from 2010-2018 of almost 2.5 million units nationally. Meanwhile, the nation has been losing low-income housing units rapidly. The number of units renting for under $800 fell by 1.0 million in 2017 alone, bringing the total drop in 2011–2017 to 4.0 million. As a result, the national vacancy rate for both owner-occupied and rental units fell again in 2018, to 4.4 percent, its lowest point since 1994.

There is a “powerful connection between homelessness and access to housing people can afford,” according to the U.S. Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness. Nationally, homelessness edged up 0.3 percent in 2018, to 552,830, from 550,996 in 2017, based on the U.S. Dep’t of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) point-in-time survey. Of course, the plight of homeless people has deepened exponentially since then, due to the pandemic.

Among the side-effects of the housing shortage were increased calls for rent control. Oregon enacted the nation’s first statewide rent control law in February 2019, out of widespread frustration with escalating rents. California enacted the second such statewide law in September 2019.

All told, moves to expand rent control through ballot initiatives or legislation have arisen since 2017 in about a dozen states. Economists caution that rent control is problematic for the housing market because, for example, it tends to discourage the production of needed, new rental housing.

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Exclusionary zoning and other regulatory barriers to housing affordability are prime culprits in America’s housing affordability and income segregation problems. EHI plays an important role in combating those barriers, and EHI is still the only national organization focused primarily on removing them for all low- and moderate-income Americans. Read more on Exclusionary Housing Practices