The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
June 3, 2014

More than half of American households make sacrifices to afford housing

June 3, 2014

In the past three years, over half of American households had to make a “major sacrifice” to afford their rent or mortgage.

Last week, Urban released a whiteboard video (embedded below) that explores the trade-offs renter households make when they pay too much of their income for housing. Results from a new survey of American households, released today by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Hart Research Associates,  underscore what Urban Institute has been documenting through our How Housing Assistance Matters Initiative. To afford housing, American households accumulate more credit card debt, work more hours or take a second job, and cut back on health care or savings for retirement.

The MacArthur survey measures how Americans are faring in the wake of the housing crisis and how their opinions about renting and owning have changed. Here are some of the major findings:

  • Seventy percent of all Americans say that we are still in the midst of the housing crisis or that the worst is yet to come.
  • While many non-owners still aspire to homeownership, a majority of all respondents said that renting has become more appealing and owning less so.
  • Three-quarters of parents who pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent or mortgage have had to make major sacrifices to afford the cost. So have a large majority of African American and Hispanic households.
  • Most of the respondents said that finding affordable quality housing in their own community is challenging.
  • About 58 percent of all Americans think that the federal government should invest equally in policies that support renting and owning.
  • A strong majority of respondents said that state and local governments should be doing more to address affordable housing in their community.

These last two findings reflect a growing concern that our national, state, and local housing policies are not keeping up with the increased need for affordable choices.  As our video illustrates, among its benefits affordable housing protects poor households from hunger and is associated with better educational outcomes.

Although I’ve argued here and other places that we simply do not have enough affordable rental housing to meet the demand, my colleagues have also pointed out that opportunities to buy homes are growing out of reach for many Americans. This survey provides important data and information that should move the debate about our national housing policy forward. It also underscores the need for a balanced policy that supports both renters and homeowners.

Look for more ideas about the role of housing assistance on our Housing Assistance Matters page.

The Assisted Housing Initiative is a project of the Urban Institute, made possible by support from Housing Authority Insurance, Inc. (HAI, Inc.), to provide fact-based analysis about public and assisted housing. The Urban Institute is a non-profit, nonpartisan research organization and retains independent and exclusive control over substance and quality of any Assisted Housing Initiative products. The views expressed in this and other Assisted Housing Initiative commentaries are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute or HAI, Inc.

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