Harvard Report Finds Growth in Renter Demand Slowing Overall, but Need for Housing Assistance Among

Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) released on December 14 its biennial report on the state of America’s rental housing, finding that while there has been an unprecedented increase in demand for rental housing over the last decade, the surge in rental household growth is now ebbing. However, the report says, the number of very low-income renter households has grown significantly in recent years—by 4.3 million between 2001 and 2015—dwarfing the increase in the number of very low-income households receiving rental assistance (an increase of merely 600,000 households) over that time period.

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JCHS reports that the rental market has responded to the increase in demand by building more high-end multifamily apartments and converting formerly owner-occupied single-family homes to rentals, but that a significant need for affordable rental housing remains. The report attributes the lack of new affordable rentals in large part to sharply rising construction costs, finding an 8 percent increase in building costs between 2016 and 2017; tight land use regulations; and lengthy approval processes.

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The report finds that nearly half of renter households pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent. The cost-burdened share of lowest-income households (earning less than $15,000) is 83 percent, with the vast majority experiencing severe burdens, meaning they pay more than 50 percent of their income for rent.

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The report highlights the importance of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and Housing Choice Vouchers in addressing the housing crisis. Yet despite the success of these programs, the report says, the growth of low-income renters continues to outpace availability of these resources.

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