Three middle-size population cities lower the percentage

In all of the 50 largest cities across the country (or the “central cities”), 75 percent of the Extremely Low Income (ELI) population is rent “burdened” and paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing, according to a new report issued by Bill Brauner, Director of Housing & Preservation at the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC) in Boston.  Families that are highly burdened (paying over 50% for rent) sacrifice spending on food and healthcare to be able to pay rent.

Surprisingly, according to the report, there is only a slight correlation between the percentage of ELI renters who are burdened and the expensiveness of rent in their city.  For example, San Francisco, which has the highest rents among the 50 central cities, has a slightly smaller percentage of burdened ELI renters than Louisville, which has the lowest rent.

The three central cities with the lowest percentage of burdened ELI renters—Boston, Atlanta and El Paso—while geographically separated, share middle range populations and have significant inventories of government-owned public housing, Section 8 vouchers, assisted privately owned affordable housing and unsubsidized market rate affordable housing (NOAH). But each has a different mix of housing types that have helped them be eight to ten percentage points below the 50-city average.

El Paso is the largest of the three with 683,000 residents, but the least dense. It has a reasonable amount of assisted and public housing given the number of renters, but a below average amount of Section 8 vouchers.  What separates El Paso, where average rent for a two-bedroom is $820, from the pack is the largest percentage of NOAH of the 50 central cities—38.8 units for every 100 renters.

Atlanta, on the other hand, has far fewer NOAH units than the average central city, an average ratio of public housing and an above average number of Section 8 vouchers.  What puts it at the lower end of the burdened renters’ assessment is its 44,000 LIHTC supported units for 38,000 ELI renters.  Of course, all these units are not available to ELI (at 30% AMI), but a large enough number are to make a difference.

Boston is the only city in the 50 central cities where burdened ELI renters are below two-thirds. It has four times the population density of Atlanta and five times that of El Paso and the average cost of a two-bedroom is $1980.  Though Boston’s population is only two-thirds of El Paso’s, it has more than three times as many ELI renters. So how can it have the lowest percentage of burdened ELI renters in the country? Well, because housing production and preservation has been a priority of both the city and the state of Massachusetts governments for decades. Both have provided multiple ongoing and innovative programs and funding to supplement federal programs.

To be linked to CEDAC’s complete report, Extremely Low Income Renters in America’s Central Cities, click here.