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Rent Burden, Housing Subsidies and the Well-being of Children and Youth

Authors: Yumiko Aratani, Michelle Chau, Vanessa R. Wight, and Sophia Addy
Publication Date: November 2011

This is an excerpt from the full report.

What is rent burden?

Rent burden is defined as spending more than 30 percent of household income on rent. In 2009, more than half of renter-occupied households with children (54 percent) experienced rent burden. Between 2002 and 2009, the proportion of households with children affected by rent burden increased significantly. Although rates of rent burden had remained relatively stable for several years between 2002 and 2006, they began to increase from 2006 to 2009. With the majority of renter-occupied households with children spending a large proportion of their incomes on housing, this issue has important implications for children’s well-being.

For low-income families (family income under 200 percent of federal poverty threshold), who are more likely than more affluent families to rent than own housing and have fewer resources available to devote to rent, the experience of rent burden is particularly acute. Nearly 80 percent of lowincome households with children spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Other types of housing problems that low-income families face include crowded housing or inadequate housing due to physical conditions of buildings such as lack of complete plumbing for exclusive use, unvented heaters as the primary heating equipment, water leakage, open cracks or holes, or rodents. However, compared with rent burden, a relatively small proportion of households with children experience these issues. That is, about five to six percent of all households with children and about 11 to 14 percent of very low-income families (families with income less than 50 percent of the median income for the geographical area in which they lived) experience at least one of these problems. Thus, the current housing problem that affects the majority of households with children is rent burden.

Does rent burden vary by geography or family characteristics?

In the United States, 57 percent of children in renteroccupied households –14.1 million – are affected by rent burden (see Table 1). Across the four main U.S. regions (Northeast, Midwest, South and West), rates of rent burden among children in renter-occupied households do not vary greatly. However, children in urban areas experience higher rates (59 percent) of rent burden compared to those in rural areas (49 percent). Research by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggests that variation in rates of rent burden by region and urban/rural status may be influenced by geographic variation in the supply of affordable housing.

Although excessive rent burden affects all types of households, the incidence of rent burden varies by important socio-demographic characteristics. Across racial/ethnic groups, Black and Hispanic children experience the highest rates of rent burden (65 percent and 62 percent, respectively). Asians and American Indian children experience the lowest rates of rent burden (46 percent for both groups). Children of immigrant parents are disproportionately affected by rent burden compared to children of native-born parents.