urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Research Area: Housing

foreclosed houseUrban Institute researchers monitor and assess housing market trends, affordable housing, homelessness, federal housing assistance, racial disparities and housing discrimination, and community revitalization. We recommended greater regulation and reforms for subprime mortgages before the housing market collapse and continue to follow its effects on families and neighborhoods. Our research informs decisionmakers with neighborhood-level data and evaluations of federal housing programs.

Subprime mortgages allowed some 12 million families to buy homes, but more than half of these high-risk loans were unregulated. When mortgage rates reset, foreclosures soared while home prices fell. The housing market collapse set off a chain reaction that took down Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and blue chip giants in its wake. Credit tightened worldwide as financial institutions struggled to stay afloat, weighed down by mortgage-backed securities with inflated credit ratings.

The housing crisis and the recession will hit the poorest Americans the hardest, leaving more families homeless. Cities once reporting declines in homelessness are now reporting increases. The need for affordable housing is even greater amid long-term economic turmoil. Rents are rising faster than incomes for low-wage workers, and the number of renters with housing hardships is rising.

The federal government provides housing assistance through rent subsidies, tax credits for building affordable housing, and block grants for affordable housing initiatives. But only about one of every four eligible households gets such aid. And subsidized housing is found disproportionately in distressed neighborhoods characterized by crime, poorly performing schools, and a lack of jobs.

Innovative federal programs, such as HOPE VI and Moving to Opportunity, offer insights that can inform future choices. Urban Institute research on the design, implementation, and effects of federal housing policy sharpens and grounds the ongoing debate about how to best serve low-income families and the communities where they live.


The Urban Institute disseminates myriad publications related to the issue of housing America's low-income families.