How Cheap is Affordable Housing Right Now?

Affordable housing apartment complexes and homes are leased through contracts with the U.S. government to serve low-income households. The Department of Housing and Urban Development had paved the way for 1.34 million affordable housing units, as of October 2015. Projects by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and other U.S. government organizations are referred to as Section 8 housing, public housing and rental assistance. The continued affordability of 400,000 of these homes are contingent on time-sensitive contracts the U.S. government previously established. The future viabilities of these programs are dependent on funding approval by congress and the actions of apartment complex landowners.

Income Requirements

The Department of Housing and Urban Development assists the needs of low-income households by offering rent subsidies to those who meet income requirements. Eligibility for subsidies is often based on the income of the in-need household relative to the area median income. Qualified households' annual incomes cannot exceed 50% of the area median income, or 30% depending on housing unit availability. Income limits typically depend on the size of the household. Tenants of Section 8 housing are expected to place 30% of their incomes toward rent, with the rest getting covered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, these programs define a maximum amount the government will pay toward an apartment depending on the apartment's number of bedrooms and its area's fair market value. These limitations disallow individuals from renting apartments that are exceedingly expensive for the area.

Prevalence of Renting Assistance

Over half of New York City renters are overburdened, meaning they place more than 30% of their incomes toward apartments. About 2.9%, or 157,000, of the city’s 5.3 million renters are using a federally assisted unit. The average subsidy nationwide is greater than $600, which highlights the exorbitant cost of rent. With 2.9% of New York City individuals using public assistance to pay for renting costs, it becomes clear wages in the United States may not be increasing at a pace that supports the cost of living.

Scarcity of Affordable Rent

Landowners have additional monetary incentives to convert affordable housing units into traditional apartments in areas where the average income is higher. Even with subsidies, it is more profitable to build luxury apartments with high monthly rent than it is to utilize funds from the government.

The need for affordable housing is justified by an imbalance in apartment price tiers. Landlords and housing developers are eager to open buildings with apartments that suit the needs of upper-middle-class and upper-class renters. There is a disparity between the number of low-income and middle-income households and the number of available apartments in an accommodating price range. This housing environment, which is present in New York City, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, forces the lower and middle class into apartments too big for their budgets or into alternative housing arrangements. Another problem is that banks are more willing to finance housing projects for wealthier tenants, which have proved less risky than developments for lower-income families.


Government subsidy is not the only avenue to affordable housing. Microapartments have emerged to address the affordable housing dilemma. A microapartment offers tenants who do not meet the demographic requirements of Section 8 housing a smaller space in exchange for less rent. However, these alternatives can be as expensive as traditional apartments because communal living appeals to a younger generation, thus increasing demand.