Housing Is Unaffordable For Half Of Renters, Study Finds

According to a new Harvard University study, housing was unaffordable for a record half of U.S. renters in 2022.

The study finds that in 2022, as rent prices increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, a record half of U.S. renters paid more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities. Nearly half of those renters were financially struggling, paying more than 50% of their income.

“We saw increases across every single income category that we look at, which sort of surprised us,” said Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, a senior research associate with the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.

“So you might not be living in as good of a neighborhood, and you might be commuting further. You might be sacrificing the quality of your school system, and often what we’re seeing is that even when people are attempting to make these trade-offs, they still end up paying too much for housing,” Airgood-Obrycki continued.

Nearly a third of struggling renters had household incomes of less than $30,000 in 2022.

“We’ve been in a time where people have routinely referred to rental affordability as a crisis. But the increase we’ve seen over the last few years in rent, which hit double digits in Boston and markets across the country, put that crisis to a whole new level,” said Chris Herbert, the Harvard Center’s managing director.

During the pandemic, federal resources kept tenants housed and landlords above water, but in many areas, those funds are mostly gone.

“As these resources have expired, however, the housing safety net is once again overwhelmed and underfunded. And while states and localities have acted to fill some of the gaps, a larger commitment from the federal government is required to expand housing supports and preserve and improve the existing affordable stock,” Herbert continued.

Many Americans can’t afford their rent. While federal and local funding temporarily protected tenants from evictions, now, eviction filings have increased, leading to record homelessness at a national level. The report states that homelessness has hit an all-time high of 653,000 Americans in January 2023.

According to the Harvard report, returning to affordable housing will be challenging. Nationally, the United States continues to lose low-rent units. In 2022, just 7 million units had contract rents under $600, a loss of 2 million units since 2012.

The rent crisis is also leading to widespread physical and mental health problems. According to the study, severely cost-burdened renters spent 39% less on food and 42% less on healthcare than unburdened Americans.

While many might argue that people should live in a more cost-friendly area, that isn’t always an option.