Nationwide Housing Shortage Most Dire For Those at the Bottom

For those at the lowest rungs of America’s economic classes, the affordable housing crisis is bad and getting worse. According to a 2011-2013 study released in 2015 from the Urban Institute, not a single county in the United States has an adequate supply of affordable housing for those in extreme poverty. Families classified as extremely low-income (ELI), or those making less than 30 percent of an area’s median household income, have far less options today than in 2000. On average nationally, only 28 affordable units are available for every 100 ELI renter households. That represents a 25% decrease in the years since 2000, when there were 37 affordable units for every 100 ELI households.

In Hamilton County, there are 52,749 ELI households (making $20,600 or less), with only 17,972 affordable units. This amounts to around 34 affordable and adequate units for every 100 households. In 2000, there were 47 units for every 100 ELI renter households. As usual, most of Cincinnati’s peer cities are facing a similar situation for their region’s poorest residents. In Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), there exist only 31 affordable units out of 100 families today, compared with 44 in 2000. In Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), there are 35 units per 100 families today while there were 44 per 100 in 2000.

Since 2000, many rural and suburban counties have joined metropolitan counties in their extremely low numbers of available units per needy households. The change is visibly stark on the Infographic for the State of Ohio, As the Urban Institute notes, the most drastic changes have occurred in the Midwest, South, and West in states like Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, and Nevada, where comparatively abundant ELI housing availability in 2000 has plummeted.

The last 16 years have also seen ELI families increasingly reliant upon federal assistance for housing. The Great Recession, rising prices in many metropolitan areas, stagnant wages, and lack of development mean that while only 57% of families relied on HUD in 2000, more than 80% do now.

Indeed, while the Urban Institute points out that federal assistance for housing has grown (albeit not enough), they also acknowledge that many in the US Congress frequently call for cuts to federal housing assistance provided through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Without this federal assistance, an already-dire situation for ELI families becomes catastrophic. Accounting for a theoretical total cut in federal housing assistance, there would exist only 5 affordable units for every 100 ELI renter household. That amounts to a mere 609,802 units for 11,341,484 ELI households. In Hamilton County specifically, there would be only 10 units for every 100 households. Cuyahoga and Allegheny Counties fair even worse, with only 5 and 3 units per 100 ELI renter households, respectively.

While the nationwide housing crisis has been much-discussed, including on this site, the true scope of the problem is most visible at the bottom of the economic spectrum. The biggest loss in affordable housing for extremely low income families has occurred mostly in unassisted units, highlighting the need for more affordable developments nationwide. Without increased federal assistance, along with more and smarter development across the nation, many will be driven to homelessness and unsafe & overcrowded housing.

OPINION: Sterling’s Discriminatory Housing Practices Should Have Been His Undoing

The other week the NBA finalized the forced sale of the Los Angeles Clippers from Donald Sterling to Steve Ballmer. The move comes after weeks of heated criticism of Sterling following his racially charged comments caught on tape to his young, mixed-race girlfriend.

This was not, however, the first moment of controversy for the billionaire owner. More significantly, is his history of racism with regard to the management of his apartment properties in California.

First, in 2001, he was sued by the City of Santa Monica for “harassing and threatening” to evict rent control tenants. Then, in 2003, tenants filed a federal lawsuit against him claiming discriminatory housing practices, which Sterling settled out of court by paying $5 million in legal fees and an undisclosed settlement to those tenants.

All of this was then followed in 2006 when the Department of Justice sued Sterling, once again, for housing discrimination against African American and Latino tenants. This DOJ suit was settled the following year for roughly $3 million, and was quickly followed by a civil lawsuit, filed by Clippers General Manager Elgin Baylor, claiming wrongful termination.

There were other instances of racism, but it is the discriminatory housing practices of Sterling that should be most significant to urbanists.

“Discrimination in the housing market has been crippling to the attempts blacks and Latinos have made to empower themselves economically. The worst examples are in the sales market — there’s a wealth of urban economic evidence showing how the inability to buy homes has affected the black-white wealth gap — but such behavior in the rental market is just as damaging,” Bomani Jones wrote for ESPN in 2010.

“Consider that, frequently, moving to a fancy neighborhood like Beverly Hills provides the best chance a family has at placing its children in decent schools, something we all can agree is pretty important.”

The zoning practices and transportation systems built in America throughout much of the 20th century facilitated the segregation of our communities, not only by income, but by race. These actions, many would agree, helped create dangerous inner-city neighborhoods with little academic or economic opportunity. Places where it is far easier to get a bag of chips or bottle of soda than it is to get fresh fruit or vegetables. Places that are violent and unhealthy.

As a society, we seemed to have condemned Sterling for the words he used, but pay little attention to the harsh realities tied to his racial discrimination as a landlord. As Jones says, these, not the words Sterling was caught saying, are what pose real and every day challenges for many racial minorities in America.

“People tend to think of the more annoying manifestations of racism, like how hard it can be for non-white people to get cabs in New York. But in the grand scheme, stuff like that is trivial. What Sterling is accused of is as real as penitentiary steel. But for some reason, that hasn’t qualified as big news in most places.”

How do the housing markets in Ohio’s largest metropolitan regions compare?

A surge of new home construction rang in the new millennium just over a decade ago, but that surge quickly ended when the now infamous housing bubble burst, subsequently leading to the Great Recession.

In recent years the economy has begun to rebound, but the housing market still has not quite come back. In particular, the home ownership housing market has not come back.

This had led to a new surge of housing construction as developers work to build product for a still growing U.S. population. Cities have seen much of this new apartment construction as the rebounding economy has coincided with the entrance of Millennials into the housing market.

The narrative has been that rentals are surging while home ownership is sagging, but according to newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this common narrative is only partly true.

Home Ownership Rates in Ohio MSAs
Apartment Vacancy Rate in Ohio MSAs

In Ohio’s five largest metropolitan regions the data shows that home ownership rates have settled out around the same levels they were at nearly two decades ago. And while apartment vacancy rates have been plummeting in recent years, they are still higher than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.

Akron and Cleveland are virtually tied for the highest home ownership rates in Ohio at 66%, but this is down from their respective peaks of 80% and 77% around the height of the housing bubble. At 61%, Columbus scores the lowest of Ohio’s five biggest metropolitan regions in terms of home ownership.

Columbus boasts the state’s lowest apartment vacancy rate at 6%, which is approaching the capital city’s all-time lowest apartment vacancy rate of 5% in 1990. The Dayton region has the highest apartment vacancy rate in the state, with its apartments sitting empty nearly twice as much as those in Columbus.

Both when it comes to home ownership and apartment vacancy rate, Cincinnati seems to serve as the state’s trend line. For the year ending 2013, the Queen City had a home ownership rate of 63% and an apartment vacancy rate of 9%.

While the aforementioned data seems to cloud the discussion about housing market trends, additional data also shows that overall inventory and prices of owner-occupied units is decreasing, while inventory and pricing of rental units is increasing.

Locally, Cincinnati is in the midst of an apartment building boom, with thousands of units across the region currently under construction. While home permits have increased recently, those numbers pale in comparison.

Renters in Ohio need only $13.79/hour to live ‘comfortably’

A new report shows that many Americans do not make enough money to be able to afford fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment. Ohio’s current minimum wage was raised to $7.85 an hour in January and includes an annual cost-of-living escalator. Fortunately in Ohio the average family needs to earn only $13.79 an hour, which is lower than the national average, in order to live comfortably. More from Next City:

To comfortably afford housing in the U.S. in 2013, according to the NLIHC, a renter must earn $18.79 an hour. That is much higher than the $14.32 hourly wage earned by the average renter, and more than double the $7.25 national minimum wage (not to mention President Obama’s proposed increase to a $9 minimum wage).

Beyond the grim big picture, data shows that blacks and Hispanics carry an added burden. While over half of the people who cannot afford housing are white, 48 percent of all African-American families and 46.6 percent of Hispanic families have insufficient income to pay the average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment ($977), according to analysis by the Poverty and Race Research Action Council.