30 Percent Struggle with Housing; Supply of Affordable Units Dwindles for Nation's Lowest Wage Earners

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 23, 2003 | Go to article overview
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30 Percent Struggle with Housing; Supply of Affordable Units Dwindles for Nation's Lowest Wage Earners


Byline: Tim Lemke, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

About 30 percent of families in the United States struggle to find affordable housing, even though homeownership is at record levels, a study released last week said.

Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies said that people in the nation's lowest income brackets often pay more than what is recommended for housing, and that the supply of low-cost homes is dwindling.

The Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Mortgage Corp., or Freddie Mac, recommend that families spend no more than 30 percent of their yearly income on housing. Harvard said about 31.6 million families - many of them earning little more than minimum wage - spent more than the recommended 30 percent in 2002, and 14.3 million families put more than 50 percent of their incomes toward housing.

"Housing problems fall most heavily on those in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, who can barely afford to pay enough to cover the cost of utilities, property taxes and maintenance on even modest units in the less desirable communities," the Harvard study said.

Of these families in the bottom fifth, about 34 percent receive some sort of federal, state or local assistance in paying for housing.

The rate of homeownership in 2002 was a record high 67.9 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. Additionally, people are buying new homes at a record clip, with 970,000 units purchased last year, up from 908,000 in 2001.

Despite the housing boom, the Harvard study noted a lack of new construction of lower-cost units. Although record-low interest rates have made homeownership more affordable for many families, the cost of housing is rising faster than the incomes of the nation's poorest families.

The study said the number of low-cost rental apartments, particularly those with two to four bedrooms, has dwindled since 1993. The Northeast has 264,000 fewer rental units than a decade ago, and the Midwest lost 240,000 units during the same period.

The issue of affordable housing has been highlighted in the District, where officials earlier this month started a marketing campaign to attract 100,000 new residents.

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