A new study by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Housing Policy reports that from 1997 to 2005, families that paid more than 50 percent of their income on housing and/or live in substandard conditions increased 73 percent. The study says some 5.2 million working families experienced critical housing needs in 2005 compared to 3 million in 1997.

"Critical housing needs are more pervasive than people think," says Barbara Lipman, the policy center's research director, adding that families experiencing critical needs range from renters to homeowners and are spread across all geographic regions. The West and Northeast have the most severe problems, but Lipman says the problem is growing in the Midwest as its manufacturing base erodes and salaries decline.

The study is based on data from HUD and the U.S. Census Bureau, which identifies 40 million households in the U.S. that meet the definition of a working family. Such families earn at least the annual minimum wage of $10,712, but no more than 120 percent of their region's median income.

"All this points to the need for more affordable housing," says Lipman. "Much of these efforts are done at the state and local level, so we have to support local efforts with federal resources and private-public partnerships," she adds.

"Basically, we know what needs to be done, we just need to muster the political will to do it," notes Lipman, who says the concern among policy makers and analysts is that fallout from the subprime crisis will add even more people to the critical needs list.

The Center for Housing Policy is the research arm of the National Housing Conference. Visit www.nhc.org for more information.

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