Affordable housing becoming harder to find, especially for lowest-income renters

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Nov 10, 2017 3:22 PM

(Harrisburg) -- A recent report from the government-backed lender Freddie Mac shows the stock of affordable rental housing dropped by 60 percent between 2010 and 2016.

Of the rental housing Freddie Mac financed nationwide in 2010, 11 percent was affordable for very-low income renters, defined as those who make less than 50 percent of an area's median income. At a refinancing in 2016, only four percent of those same rentals was still affordable.

Phyllis Chamberlain, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, said the trend holds up across the commonwealth.

"For every 100 extremely low-income renter households, there are only 35 units that are available and affordable to them," Chamberlain said, and explained the decline in affordability is mostly due to stagnant wages since the Great Recession. 

Housing instability can have a ripple effect. 

"In addition to the fact that the lack of affordable housing means that families struggle, it also impacts these other systems and creates higher costs, particularly in the health care field," Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain said if a household is straining to pay rent, it likely isn't prepared for a medical emergency. And if families move often, children can fall behind in school. 

She said federal and state programs to help low-income families pay rent and buy homes are effective, but governments need to commit to them and increase funding. 

Information from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank shows funding allocations to Harrisburg from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development dropped more than ten percent between 2007 and 2016. In Lancaster, it dropped by 35 percent during that same time period. 

The Low Income Housing Coalition says a renter making minimum wage in the Harrisburg-Carlisle metro are would have to work 97 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom home at a fair market rate. In Lancaster, a minimum wage earner would have to work 100 hours. 

About half of midstate renters are paying more than the affordability benchmark of 30 percent of their income on housing, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

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