Housing Complex

D.C. Stacks Up Well on Affordable Housing, Per Report

Compared to surrounding counties, D.C. actually has a relatively high supply of affordable housing for extremely low-income households.

Compared to surrounding counties, D.C. actually has a relatively high supply of affordable housing for extremely low-income households.

These days, the issue of housing affordability is everywhere in D.C. It dominates the mayoral campaign, it's invoked to explain the spike in the number of families in homeless shelters, and it's at the center of policy proposals and announcements. The gist of all of these references to affordable housing in D.C. is that we don't have nearly enough of it.

But how does the District stack up against the rest of the country when it comes to housing affordability? The Urban Institute has a report out today that answers this question by tracking housing affordability in every county in the country.

According to the study, for every 100 extremely low-income renter households in D.C.—those making less than 30 percent of area median income, or $32,250 for a family of four—there are only 45 affordable and available rental units. In other words, fewer than half of households in need of affordable housing can actually find it.

That doesn't sound good. But compared to the rest of the country, according to the study, we're actually doing remarkably well.

Nationwide, there are only 29 affordable and available units for each 100 extremely low-income renter household. In fact, of the 100 largest counties in the country, D.C. has the second-smallest gap between affordable housing demand and supply, behind just Suffolk County, Mass., home to Boston, where there are 50 affordable and available units per 100 households in need.

And compared with the worst-performing counties in America, D.C. looks downright affordable for low-income families. Cobb County, Ga., at the bottom of the list, has fewer than three affordable and available units for every 100 extremely low-income renter households.

D.C.'s stronger-than-average performance in affordable housing will surely come as a surprise to the around 70,000 residents waiting for their names to be called off the Housing Authority's waiting list for housing subsidies—or the thousands more who can't even put their names on the list after the Housing Authority suspended it last year. And the report does note that the gap between affordable housing demand and supply in D.C. is widening.

"Between 2000 and 2012, DC lost approximately 8,000 units that are affordable and available for [extremely low-income] households, likely due to gentrification, while losing just over 2,000 ELI households," the report states. "DC’s overall affordability gap worsened during this period; in 2012, 23 percent fewer units are affordable and available for every 100 ELI households."

But the report continues, "That said, it is still near the top of the largest 100 counties with the highest number of units that are affordable and available for ELI households."

If anyone has a theory on why the District comes across so well on this metric, the comment section is yours.

You can explore the national map below.

Image from the Urban Institute map

  • Never Cease to be Amazed

    Part of the issues are that the relatively high average income numbers make the look much better.

    In "Average Median Income" (or AMI) in DC is almost 1/2 of Baltimore's. if you're poor, the measure of affordability vs. your peers that make-up those below the DC AMI doesn't help you get close to the cost of marketrate units in most areas of DC.

    The problem of averages as simple measure is that they don't tell the whole story. example: If 1 person make $1,000,000/annum and 9 others make $10,000/annum, then the average income is over $100,000. But the average masks a reality that is much different than would be implied.

    The don't think that the cure is to mandate more donation of afforable units -- but the public need for housing requires that the public spend more money to help provide such places for many of our citizens.

    If we agree that's what needs to be done, then we need agree to spend our collective money to help. If we don't, then quit whining about the "problem" -- just accept that hovels and homeless shouldn't bother us. I think not.

  • misleading data

    The problem with this study is that it only looks at subsidized affordable housing. This ignores section 8 vouchers which assist a large number of families in regions like metropolitan Washington. It also ignores market rate affordable housing which is the most common type of housing for very low income households nation wide.

  • Calvin H. Gurley

    NOT TRUE..."..100 extremely low-income renter households in D.C.— or a family of four—there are only 45 affordable and available rental units..."

    The problem is the beginning number of "45" available and affordable units. D.C. has not created/built any 3 to 4 bedroom rental units in decades. The family dwellings of 3 to 4 bedrooms have been demolished by the D.C. Gov't. and the remaining are in poor repair.

    East Capitol Dwellings...high rise demolished also Arthur Capper in S.W. and other public housing multi-room family rental units are gone. D.C. and developers are building one bedroom (closet size) rental units and some lofts and den-bedroom units. Families are out of this kind of new housing development in the District.

    And you forget...D.C. had thrown away the long standing Public Housing List that listed up to 75,000 families who needed affordable public housing. Now, those families have become unemployed and homeless which takes them off the list as apartment/affordable rental unit hunters.

    Calvin H. Gurley
    Candidate for 2014 City Council
    On the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Commission for Public Housing.

  • Green Eyeshade

    Another possible limitation in the data is that it appears to count a household as an ELI household only if that household is paying "rent," or capable of paying rent. The caption on the chart refers to "Total ELI renter households." The chronic emergency in DC persists because we have thousands of households who are too poor to even pay "rent," and rents are skyrocketing. These charts and the Urban Institute report are essentially useless as tools to analyze the scope or severity of DC's "homelessness emergency" because most of DC's homeless cannot afford to pay "rent" in the current housing market. If they can't pay rent, the Urban Institute report apparently just ignores them.

  • Green Eyeshade

    The Urban Institute report appears to be useless for analyzing or responding to the "homelessness" emergency in DC, because it ignores all households which are not "renter" households. In other words, any family which cannot AFFORD TO PAY RENT is ignored by the definitions in the report and on the charts.

  • Will

    If I am reading the numbers correctly, the study says that if you have a subsidy in D.C. then you have a decent shot of getting housing. By subsidy I am assuming they are referring mostly to tenant based vouchers since having a subsidy attached to a unit (public housing or project based housing) would mean that you were actually in housing. However, the study also shows that if you do not have a subsidy it is virtually impossible for a low income renter to pay rent (2 out of every 100 households). In D.C. there are no subsidies available as the current waitlist is closed, and has been for a while, with 70,000 households on it. This is why family homelessness is spiking. At a quick glance the study does not give a clear picture of the realities of affordable housing in D.C.

  • @Never Cease to be Amazed

    Hi never cease--I actually agree with your point that the fact DC is generally so wealthy is skewing things but wanted to flag one thing for you. AMI actually stands for AREA median income.

    So in your example, the AMI is 100,000, since that's the median. It's not a perfect measure either, but it does a much better of measuring the "middle" than averages do, for the exact reason you describe.

  • grumpy

    Can someone clarify where they got their statistics of "affordable and available" rental units from and what that term means? It's kind of astounding to me that the Urban Institute did not define the term, or list the data source in their blog post or on the webpage with the interactive map.

  • http://www.urban.org Erika

    Thanks for all of these comments. The methodology for the analysis can be found on the map itself. If you click on "About this map" you will find a description of the data sources and the approach. If you want even more information you can click on the link to the full methodology report.

    To answer some of your questions, the analysis of "affordable and available" is calculated using the American Community Survey. The HUD assisted units data is the public use data published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. We use it to estimate the number of units rented by ELI households that are not rent burdened (e.g. paying 30 percent or less of their income for rent.)

    For HUD assistance, we included all units subsidized by HUD (public housing, vouchers, and privately owned but deeply subsidized units) if they were affordable to ELI households.

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