America is experiencing a housing affordability crisis. Even before the pandemic, in no state, metropolitan area, or county in the U.S. could a worker earning the federal or prevailing state or local minimum wages and working a standard 40-hour work week afford a modest two-bedroom rental home, and in fewer than 5% of counties could they afford a one-bedroom rental. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) found that the 2020 national “Housing Wage” (the average hourly wage full-time workers must earn to afford a rental home at HUD’s fair market rent without spending more than 30% of their incomes) is $23.96 per hour for a modest two-bedroom rental home, and $19.56 per hour for a modest one-bedroom rental. The average minimum wage worker must work 97 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom rental or 79 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom rental at the average fair market rent. Since 1989, NLIHC’s Out of Reach report has called attention to this gulf between actual wages and what people need to earn to afford their rent, but wage is not the only factor. NLIHC’s The Gap report documents a systemic shortage of affordable housing, showing that nationally, just 36 affordable and available rental homes exist for every 100 extremely low-income renter households.

Funding for affordable housing solutions has been declining for decades. Adjusting for inflation, the federal budget authority for housing assistance programs in the 1970s was nearly three times more than it is today, despite the significant growth in the number of low-income renters eligible for assistance. Today’s modern phenomenon of homelessness did not exist during the late-1970s because our country housed almost everyone, including the lowest-income families. At that time, our country had a modest surplus of homes affordable and available to the lowest-income people. The primary difference between then and now: federal subsidies. The result of this decline in federal investment is a shortage of 7 million homes affordable and available to those with extremely low incomes, 11 million renter households that are “severely housing cost-burdened” – paying 50%, 60%, 70% or more of their incomes on their housing – and just one in four households eligible for federal housing assistance actually getting the help they need. These households forgo healthy food or delay healthcare to pay the rent. In the worst cases, they become homeless. The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated this crisis, and the American public recognizes the need for change. There has never been a more urgent time to expand rental assistance and protect those facing housing insecurity.

[Opportunity Starts at Home is a multisector affordable homes campaign led by NLIHC.]

The country’s affordable housing crisis most harms the lowest-income renters, disproportionately people of color. Inaction is expensive; investments in proven solutions to end homelessness and housing poverty benefit us all. Like roads and bridges, affordable housing is a long-term asset that helps communities and families thrive. Failures of both the private market and public policy — at the federal, state, and local levels — have contributed to today’s crisis. The federal government has an indispensable role to play in addressing it. Congress must fully fund key federal housing programs that serve the nation’s lowest-income renters. These programs include the national Housing Trust Fund, Housing Choice Vouchers, public housing, project-based rental assistance, and other rental housing programs. A fully refundable renters’ tax credit for low-income housing cost-burdened renters would also help struggling families afford their rent. Most urgently, immediate action must be taken to protect those at grave risk during the pandemic through emergency rental assistance; a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures; and emergency funds for homelessness service providers, housing authorities, and housing providers.

Founded in 1974, NLIHC is solely dedicated to ensuring the lowest-income seniors, people with disabilities, families with young children and others in our country have safe, accessible and affordable homes. NLIHC works with and on behalf of low-income people who need safe, accessible and affordable homes. Through data-driven research, policy analysis and advocacy, public education and communications, and outreach and mobilization efforts, NLIHC strives to achieve affordable housing solutions for those most in need.

We can end homelessness and housing poverty in America. We have the data, the solutions, and, as a country, the resources. We lack only the political will to fund the solutions at the scale necessary.

Take Action

  • Use your voice to advocate for federal solutions so that those with the lowest incomes have access to decent, affordable homes.  
  • Become a member of NLIHC or support NLIHC’s work to increase affordable housing for people with the greatest needs.
  • Connect with one of NLIHC’s state and local partners supporting policy at the state/local level.
  • Sign up for updates and calls to action from NLIHC.