New CBPP Report Shows Renters Are Being Squeezed on Both Sides

Despite significant growth in the housing cost burdens faced by low-income renters in California, federal support for rental assistance has barely grown since 2007 and the Great Recession. A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) details how the lack of affordable housing in California is especially hard on low-income renters and shows how it is exacerbating poverty, overcrowding, and housing instability. The CBPP’s report also discusses the importance of federal Housing Choice Vouchers in helping low-income households to afford rental housing and calls on Congress to restore a portion of the vouchers lost to federal cuts in recent years.

It’s no news to Californians that housing in our state is expensive—more so than in most of the rest of the country. And not only is it expensive, it’s also unaffordable for many Californians.

In the wake of the housing market crash and Great Recession, more Californians have chosen (or been forced) to rent rather than own, with the share of households renting growing from 42 percent in 2007 to 46 percent in 2013. But the supply of rental housing hasn’t kept up with demand. California’s rental vacancy rate of 4 percent is at a 30-year low and is far below the national rate of 7 percent. This limited supply of rental housing pushes prices up further, making housing even harder to afford for people lower on the income ladder.

Federal rental assistance in various forms helps many families to obtain housing. The largest of these programs in California is the Housing Choice Voucher program, which in 2014 helped about 300,000 California families to bridge the gap between what they could pay and the market rate for rent.

But as a result of ongoing federal budget cuts that began in 2013, the Housing Choice Voucher program served more than 14,000 fewer California families in December 2014 than in December 2012. At the same time, housing costs continue to rise and the need for assistance continues to grow.

Cuts to the Housing Choice Voucher program have contributed to anemic growth in federal rental assistance. Since 2007, the growth in households receiving federal rental assistance (6 percent) has been less than one-fourth the growth in low-income renters who are “severely cost burdened” by housing (28 percent) – that is, renters who pay over half of their monthly income in rent and utilities (see CBPP chart below).

Federal Rental Assistance in California Has Not Kept Pace with Need

With federal rental assistance failing to keep up with the mounting challenge of affordable housing, more California families are having to choose between paying rent and covering the cost of other necessities like food, transportation, or medicine. Families may have to squeeze into smaller units with more people, which contributes to stress-related behavior problems in students, in turn affecting their academic performance and their chances for long-term success. As CBPP’s report makes clear, curtailing support for housing assistance is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

— William Chen