This paper examines housing affordability in the United States over the past three decades using the author’s concept of “shelter poverty.” The major findings are as follows: The number of shelter-poor households has been over 30 million since the early 1990s, an increase of more than 70 percent since 1970. Among families with children, rates of shelter poverty are much higher, and over the past several decades have risen faster, than among households with just one or two persons. Nearly half of all renter households are shelter-poor, victims of low incomes and rising rents; most low-income renters are headed by a woman and/or a person of color; nearly a quarter of homeowner households are shelter-poor; most are single-parent families or elderly. Shelter affordability problems have increased more for renters than for homeowners; more than half of the increase in shelter poverty since 1970 has been among the one-third of all households who are renters. Households headed by a person of color have about a 25 percent higher rate of shelter poverty than renter households headed by a white person, with a smaller but still significant racial gap among homeowners. More than half of all shelter-poor renter households are headed by a woman, and two out of five shelter-poor homeowner households are headed by a woman. Shelter-poor elders are predominantly very poor women living alone, renters and homeowners; elderly married couples, by contrast, have relatively low rates of shelter poverty.



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