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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
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
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
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 mailto:email@example.com,
or visit NMHC's web site at http://www.nmhc.org
(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.