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These days, the issue of housing affordability is everywhere in D.C. It dominates the mayoral campaign, it’s invoked to explain the spike in the number of families in homeless shelters, and it’s at the center of policy proposals and announcements. The gist of all of these references to affordable housing in D.C. is that we don’t have nearly enough of it.
But how does the District stack up against the rest of the country when it comes to housing affordability? The Urban Institute has a report out today that answers this question by tracking housing affordability in every county in the country.
According to the study, for every 100 extremely low-income renter households in D.C.—-those making less than 30 percent of area median income, or $32,250 for a family of four—-there are only 45 affordable and available rental units. In other words, fewer than half of households in need of affordable housing can actually find it.
That doesn’t sound good. But compared to the rest of the country, according to the study, we’re actually doing remarkably well.
Nationwide, there are only 29 affordable and available units for each 100 extremely low-income renter household. In fact, of the 100 largest counties in the country, D.C. has the second-smallest gap between affordable housing demand and supply, behind just Suffolk County, Mass., home to Boston, where there are 50 affordable and available units per 100 households in need.
And compared with the worst-performing counties in America, D.C. looks downright affordable for low-income families. Cobb County, Ga., at the bottom of the list, has fewer than three affordable and available units for every 100 extremely low-income renter households.
D.C.’s stronger-than-average performance in affordable housing will surely come as a surprise to the around 70,000 residents waiting for their names to be called off the Housing Authority’s waiting list for housing subsidies—-or the thousands more who can’t even put their names on the list after the Housing Authority suspended it last year. And the report does note that the gap between affordable housing demand and supply in D.C. is widening.
“Between 2000 and 2012, DC lost approximately 8,000 units that are affordable and available for [extremely low-income] households, likely due to gentrification, while losing just over 2,000 ELI households,” the report states. “DC’s overall affordability gap worsened during this period; in 2012, 23 percent fewer units are affordable and available for every 100 ELI households.”
But the report continues, “That said, it is still near the top of the largest 100 counties with the highest number of units that are affordable and available for ELI households.”
If anyone has a theory on why the District comes across so well on this metric, the comment section is yours.
You can explore the national map below.
Image from the Urban Institute map