Sharply rising rents in the District have led to the virtual disappearance of low-cost private housing across the city, according to a new analysis by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. Yet the District’s economy has left nearly half of its residents with stagnant incomes. As a result, a growing number of residents are forced to spend the majority of their income on rent and utilities, struggling each month to maintain stable housing and afford other necessities like food and transportation.

These findings are outlined in a new report, Going, Going, Gone: DC’s Vanishing Affordable Housing, released by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. Here are a few highlights from the report:

The number of low-cost apartments dropped nearly in half. The number of apartments with monthly rent and utilities below $800 fell from 58,000 in 2002 to only 33,000 in 2013, according to the report’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

It now appears the private market has very few, if any, low-cost units. The number of apartments below $800 roughly matches the number of federally and locally subsidized housing units, which suggests that subsidized housing is now virtually the only source of inexpensive apartments.

“There is virtually no inexpensive housing left in DC’s private market,” said Wes Rivers, Policy Analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. “Without housing assistance, many families have no choice but to devote most of their income for rent.”

Rents are rising for nearly all residents – from those needing low-cost housing to those looking for luxury apartments. However, the impact has been greatest on low- and moderate-income households whose incomes have not benefited from DC’s recent economic growth:

Very low-income households feel the greatest pinch on their budgets. Two-thirds of low-income households spend more than half their income for housing.

More moderate-income families are being squeezed. Even households with incomes up to $54,000 have seen their rent increase dramatically, with one-third of those households now facing a severe housing cost burden.

Families that have to spend the majority of their limited budget on housing costs are forced to cut other necessities like food, health care, and transportation. The high cost of housing leads families to live in substandard housing, with problems like mold or rodents, and forces many to move frequently.

“Unstable and unhealthy housing puts stress on families that makes it hard for children to focus at school and for parents to keep a job, and leaves many at risk of homelessness. The lack of affordable housing affects the ability of residents to thrive and the city to remain economically strong.”

The report offers recommendations to ensure that residents at a wide range of incomes can afford to live in the city and contribute to its vitality. This includes steps to preserving existing affordable housing and increasing the supply through efforts such as the city’s Local Rent Supplement Program and the Housing Production Trust Fund.

By: Ed Lazere

Executive Director, DC Fiscal Policy Institute

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