The number of Americans whose living conditions fall under “worst case housing needs” grew by more than 20%—or nearly 1.2 million households—from 2007 and 2009 to reach a total of 7.1 million households, a number 42% higher than 2001 levels, according to a report to Congress released yesterday by HUD. The study, “Worst Case Housing Needs 2009: A Report to Congress,” is part of a series of reports measuring the needs of low-income unassisted renters in the U.S. HUD defines “worst case housing needs” as unassisted renters whose income falls below 50% of the local median income and “who either pay more than one-half of their monthly income for rent, or live in severely inadequate conditions, or both.”

Demographics didn’t offer much in the way of shelter. Worst case needs grew in all regions of the country and spread in cities, suburbs, and rural areas. The increase was seen in all racial and ethnic groups during the two-year period, although Hispanics took the largest hit with an increase of 8% in worst cases.

Need increases also spread throughout various family constructions, including families with children, senior citizens, and persons with disabilities. The rate of worst cases among those with disabilities rose to 40.7% of all very low-income renters with disabilities.

Availability of affordable rental housing to very low-income renters varies throughout the country. HUD reported that options are most scarce in the West, where a meager 53 units of affordable rentals are available for every 100 very low-income renter households. The South offers 65 units per 100 households, followed by 66 in the Northeast, and 87 in the Midwest. Conditions are worse for extremely low-income renters (defined as those whose income is less than 30% of the local area median income), who nationally have only 36 affordable housing units available to them for every 100 renter households.

The study found a direct link between the rise in worst cases and the recent recession and its resulting joblessness. Unemployment and under-employment forced 410,000 additional households into the ranks of the worst cases, making up more than a third of new cases overall.

The survey, conducted between May and September of 2009, was tallied too early to see the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), HUD said in a press release. It touted the administration’s efforts, reporting that through ARRA nearly 341,000 affordable housing units have been rehabilitated or constructed through the Tax Credit Assistance Program and Public Housing Capital Fund; and that the act guaranteed rental subsidy of about 1.2 million affordable housing units, among other efforts. The Obama administration is currently seeking $1 billion for new affordable housing units for the lowest-income families.

Claire Easley is senior editor, online, at Builder.

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