In recent years, housing costs have soared for both homeowners and renters while incomes have stagnated, trends that potentially threaten the financial security of vulnerable populations. Compounded with the fact that housing is the biggest monthly expense for many households, those who find themselves struggling to keep a roof overhead may be faced with the difficult choice of foregoing other basic needs such as food and health care. This brief looks closely at financial insecurity and material hardship among homeowners and renters, controlling for demographic and economic differences and income. We find that:
• Compared with homeowners, renters are less likely to have access to emergency savings and more likely to experience an unexpected drop in income.
• Nearly half of renters report at least one material hardship in the past year, compared with just over one-third of homeowners, and renters consistently report higher rates of material hardship across all domains in our study.
• Although homeowners report greater financial security and lower rates of material hardship than renters, many low-income homeowners still struggle to meet their basic needs.
• Among adults reporting low confidence in their savings capability, renters are more likely than owners to report experiencing hardship.
Our research adds to growing evidence that resource-strapped families face difficult choices when paying for housing and basic needs; weakening the housing safety would only increase material hardships they already experience.
This brief was updated November 1, 2018. Several places in the earlier version used the term "missed payments," which is not what the survey measured. Respondents were asked if their household did not pay the full amount of the rent or mortgage or were late with a payment because their household could not afford to pay, and if their household was not able to pay the full amount of their gas, oil, or electricity bills. In figures 3 and 4, table 1, and text on page 9, mentions of missed payments or nonpayments have been replaced with "partial" payments, "partial or late" payments, or trouble making payments. Endnote 3 was adjusted and endnote 4 was added for further clarity.