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January 17, 2003
More Workers Spend Majority of Income on Housing
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m 1999 to 2001 there was a 30 percent rise in the number of working families that spent more than half their income on housing, according to a study from the National Housing Conference (NHC), an advocacy group that aims to increase the availability of affordable housing.

The study entitled America's Working Families and the Housing Landscape found that working the equivalent of a full-time job does not guarantee American families a decent, affordable place to live.

"Our research underscores the need to act now to increase the current supply of affordable housing across the nation," says Michael Pitchford, president of the NHC. "Many Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to purchase, maintain or rent decent, affordable housing, including those that hold vital community positions such as police officers, firefighters and teachers."

The analysis of federal data from 1997 to 2001 also found that there has been more than a 60 percent rise in four years in the number of working families with critical housing needs, that is, those families who pay more than half their income for housing, and, or, live in physically substandard housing.

This problem affects both working homeowners and renters, the authors of the study say. Yet, in 2001 working families with critical housing needs were more likely to be homeowners than renters, at 53 percent versus 47 percent. Working families are defined as low- to moderate-income families that work the equivalent of a full-time job and earn between the minimum wage of $10,712 and up to 120 percent of the median income in their area.

"The study shows that the housing crisis is no longer just about poor renters in our inner cities who can't find affordable housing -- there are 14.4 million working families, both renters and homeowners, low-income and middle-income families, in every city and town and Congressional district across the country who are now facing severe housing problems," Boston Mayor Thomas Menino said in response to the study.

In 1997, roughly 3 million low- to moderate-income working families had critical housing needs. By 2001 this number had risen to 4.8 million.

"Affordable housing has become a priority for many communities across the nation as they continue to deal with economic development, congestion and the need to house their workforce," says Pitchford. "Although decision-makers at the federal and state levels continue to address this issue, working families do not often fit the stereotypes that surround housing policy."

Despite the economic expansion between 1997 and 1999, the total number of American families with severe housing problems remained virtually unchanged at 13 million -- a figure that includes non-working, marginally employed and working families, according to the study. However, in 2001 approximately 14.4 million, or 1 in 7 Americans, had critical housing needs.

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