Community Dividend

HUD report reveals worst case housing needs

Published May 1, 2006  | May 2006 issue

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Office of Policy Development and Research confirms that housing costs are a severe hardship for millions of American families.

Affordable Housing Needs: A Report to Congress on the Significant Need for Housing uses 2003 data to estimate the number of U.S. households with worst case needs (WCN) for housing. WCN individuals are defined as unassisted renters with very low incomes—that is, incomes at or below 50 percent of the area median income (AMI)—who pay more than half of their income for housing or live in substandard housing. The report is the ninth in a series of WCN reports HUD has provided to Congress since 1991. This latest installment includes a new analysis of severe rent burden and its duration, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Income and Program Participation.

According to the report, 4.89 percent of American families, or 5.18 million households, have WCN for housing. That proportion has remained fairly constant in recent years, hovering around 5 percent since 1991. For 91 percent of those households, the main housing issue is severe rent burden, not substandard conditions. Of the approximately 5 million WCN households, 2.76 million are white non-Hispanic, 1.04 million are black non-Hispanic and 1.04 million are Hispanic. About 20 percent of WCN households are elderly, 36 percent are families with children and nearly 80 percent are extremely-low-income, meaning their incomes fall at or below 30 percent of AMI.

The report indicates the distribution of WCN households is relatively even among major geographic regions in the U.S. However, very-low-income renters in the West are less likely to receive housing assistance and more likely to experience WCN for housing than renters in other regions. Across the U.S., more than one-third of very-low-income renters in central cities and suburbs have WCN for housing, while the proportion is about one-fourth in rural areas.

To access the report, visit