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08/28/2002 NewsWire

NMHC Research Shows Little Improvement in Nation's Housing. Suggests Some Affordability Problems May be Income Problems, Not Housing Problems

WASHINGTON, Aug. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- The U.S. is among the best-housed nations in the world, but affordable housing remains a problem for low-income Americans in many, if not most, housing markets in the country, according to a new research report by the National Multi Housing Council (NMHC).

Housing Affordability: The Apartment Universe also finds that despite the economic expansion of the late 1990s, there has been little change in our affordability problems since 1989, and it suggests that, in some cases, our affordability problems may be"income problems"and not"housing problems."

While the shortage of affordable housing is well-documented, this is the first research to focus specifically on the affordability problems of the nation's 15 million apartment renters,(1) explains Mark Obrinsky, Chief Economist at NMHC. Prior research has generally treated owners and renters together, but apartments are distinct from owner-occupied housing and even from other forms of rental housing. In order to fully understand our affordable housing challenges, we need to understand the apartment component.

The report finds that 26 percent of all apartment renters (3.8 million) received some sort of federal housing assistance in 1999. Of the 74 percent of unassisted apartment renters, 23 percent (2.3 million) were"moderately rent burdened"(2) and 19 percent (1.9 million) were"severely rent burdened."

Not surprisingly, the report found the most severe rent burdens at the lower end of the income distribution. Fully 90 percent of renters with severe rent burdens are very-low income households,(3) and more than half of all apartment renters with very-low incomes are severely rent burdened.

Moderate rent burdens are more widespread, however. Forty-seven percent of moderately burdened households have very-low incomes, but another 39 percent are low-income and 11 percent are moderate-income.

Examining how the nation's record economic expansion of the 1990s changed the affordability picture, the study finds little difference in affordability between 1991 and 1997 but some improvement from 1997 to 1999. Even so, the magnitude of the changes over the entire period from 1989-1999 was quite small. Furthermore, the number of low-income and moderate-income renters with severe burdens in 1999 was higher than in previous years, suggesting that in some areas, at least, severe housing burdens are becoming a problem for more than just very low-income households.

The seeming intransigence of the affordable housing problem, even during prosperous economic times, raises an interesting public policy question of whether our affordability problem is caused by a lack of housing supply, or by a lack of income,"noted Obrinsky. "More research is needed to fully understand the nature of our affordable housing problems.

One thing is for certain,"noted Clarine Nardi Riddle, NMHC's Senior Vice President,"this research makes it clear that we cannot rely on economic growth and prosperity alone to solve the problem. It is time to make housing a national priority and to muster the political will at all levels of government to address three key issues if we want to reduce housing costs. They are public funding, regulatory reform, and"not-in-my-backyard"opposition to much-needed new housing development communities. NMHC and its joint legislative partner, the National Apartment Association, look forward to working with Congress as it considers recent recommendations from the Congressionally-chartered Millennial Housing Commission. We are confident we can find ways to unleash the expertise of the private sector to assist in solving this national problem.

Note: The full report is available on NMHC's web site at ServeContent.cfm?ContentItemID=2591


Based in Washington, DC, NMHC is a national association representing the interests of the larger and most prominent apartment firms in the U.S. NMHC's members are the principal officers of firms engaged in all aspects of the apartment industry, including ownership, development, management and financing. One-third of Americans rent their housing, and 15 percent of all U.S. households live in apartment homes. For more information, contact NMHC at 202/974-2300, e-mail the Council at, or visit NMHC's web site at

(1) Refers to renters in properties with five or more units.

(2) A household is considered"severely burdened"if it pays more than 50 percent of its income on rent plus utilities. It is considered "moderately burdened"if it pays 30-50 percent of its income on rent plus utilities.

(3) Very-low income households are those earning less than 50 percent of HUD-adjusted area median family income (HAMFI); low-income households are those earning between 50 percent and 80 percent of HAMFI; moderate-income households are those earning between 80 percent and 120 percent of HAMFI and higher-income households are those earning 120 percent or more of HAMFI.