America’s families carry heavy housing burdens

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CharleneCrowell

(NNPA)—Despite continued reductions in home prices and mortgage interest rates, housing affordability remains a growing problem for many Americans. That was the key finding in a new study, Housing Landscape 2012, from the Center for Housing Policy. After analyzing Census data on housing costs and incomes the organization found that both homeowners and renters are struggling to pay for housing. Since 2008, affordability has eroded for working households in 24 states. Moreover, nearly one in four working households in the country spent more than half of their total income on housing.

According to Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Housing Policy, “The data show that homeowners have been hit hard by the housing crisis in more ways than just lost equity. Many homeowners have been laid off or had their hours cut.”

In the aftermath of millions of foreclosures, landlords faced a higher market demand. With more people searching for rental units, many landlords began charging higher prices. Even for homeowners who were able to keep up with mortgages, weak employment figures that translated into either unemployment or fewer working hours reduced available monies for living costs.

The report defined ‘working households’ as those with members working at least 20 hours per week on average and a household income of no more than 120 percent of their area median income. In 2010, nearly one-third of all owner-occupied families met the definition of working families. Nationally, the median income for working household owners in 2010 was slightly higher than $41,000 or about 80 percent of the median income for all American homeowners.

Families are considered housing cost burdened if their costs exceed 30 percent of monthly income. Severely cost burdened households spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing.

Other key findings from the report:

•The share of working households with a severe housing cost burden increased from 21.8 percent in 2008 to 23.6 percent in 2010.

•Despite falling house prices, working households who own their homes continue to face severe housing cost burdens. This financial stress is driven in large part by a decrease in the median number of hours worked per week and a resulting drop in income.

•With both increased rents and decreased incomes in these years, working renters fared even worse over the two-year period studied. Although incomes increased somewhat between 2009 and 2010, the housing costs of renters over the two-year period rose by four percent.

After comparing housing cost burdens state-by-state, the Center then compared the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. California, the nation’s most populous state, had the highest share of cost-burdened households of any state. Its metro areas of Los Angeles-Long Beach, San Diego-Carlsbad and Riverside-San Bernardino were three of the nation’s worst hit local markets.

Yet it was the Miami-Fort Lauderdale- Pompano Beach market that proved to be the hardest hit local area in the country with more than four of every 10 families with a severe housing burden. Among the 50 metro areas with the highest housing burdens, 13 were in the South.

These disturbing statistics tell us that while every family needs a home, it is increasingly difficult for parents to provide for their loved ones. Homes, whether rented or owned, are where children come home from school and parents come home from work. It’s also where birthdays, anniversaries and other activities provide a sense of place and belonging.

In the film classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey understood the importance of a home. In a memorable scene, George, played by actor Jimmy Stewart, pleaded with a local banker to understand how the people who did most of the working, living and dying in their town deserved a decent place to live. In 2012, this nation needs a real life George Bailey.

(Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.)

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