Harvard Report: Higher-Income Households Driving Rental Demand

Renter affordability crisis climbs the income ladder, affecting more Americans.

The nation’s affordability crisis is not just affecting the lowest bracket of renter households, it’s climbing the income ladder to impact more modest-income households, according to the “America’s Rental Housing 2020” report by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS).

“Ultimately, we are in a rental affordability crisis,” says Whitney Airgood-Obrycki, a research associate at the JCHS. “We have seen another worsening of the affordability crisis this year, evident in the rising cost-burdened numbers as well as the increasing numbers of people experiencing homelessness.”

According to the latest biennial report, while the number of cost-burdened renter households, those paying 30% or more of their income on rent and utilities, declined from 2014 to 2017, that number inched back up in 2018, rising by 261,000 to 20.8 million. In addition in 2018, 10.9 million—or 1 in 4—renters were severely cost burdened, spending more than half of their income on housing and utilities. This includes some 72% of renters who earn less than $15,000 and 43% of renters who earn between $15,000 and $29,999 annually.

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