Changes in Rent Burdens and Housing Conditions of Lower Income Households

RCED-85-108: Published: Apr 23, 1985. Publicly Released: Apr 23, 1985.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed data from the Annual Housing Survey (AHS) to determine the rent burdens and housing conditions of lower income households. Higher rent burdens result in households paying a greater percentage of their incomes for rent, leaving them a smaller percentage of their incomes for other expenditures.

GAO found that, during the period from 1975 to 1983, the number and percentage of lower income households with rent burdens in excess of 30 percent of their gross annual income increased from 7.8 million to 11.9 million. The Department of Housing and Urban Development often uses the figure of 30 percent or less of gross income as a benchmark for a reasonable or affordable rent burden for a lower income household. The most significant shift in rent burdens occurred among very low-income households, 38 percent of these households had rent burdens in excess of 50 percent in 1975; however, by 1983, this percentage increased to 49 percent. Among households with incomes over 50 to 80 percent of area median family incomes, 22 percent paid between 30 and 50 percent of their incomes for rent in 1975 and 32 percent paid this amount in 1983. Although lower income households experienced an upward shift in rent burdens, the percentage of these households living in adequate housing improved slightly. The number and percentage of households with incomes at 50 percent or less of area median family incomes living in adequate rental units increased from 7.2 million in 1975 to 9.9 million in 1981. However, the number of households in the same income group living in inadequate units also increased slightly while the percentage of inadequate units housing this population decreased 3 percent during this period.

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