(October 2001) Despite the national prosperity of the 1990s, over one-fifth of all households — and one-third of renters — lacked affordable housing during 1999-2000, according to a new Census Bureau survey.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers housing “affordable” if total expenses (rent or mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, utilities, and other related payments) account for less than 30 percent of total household income. Paying 30 percent or more of income on housing may leave insufficient resources to cover other basic expenses, including food and health care costs. This analysis uses a 35 percent cutoff to indicate a lack of affordable housing, and a 50 percent threshold to indicate a severe housing burden (see figure).


Housing Difficulties Facing Homeowners and Renters, 1999–2000

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Supplementary Survey.


According to results from the Census 2000 Supplementary Survey (C2SS), a special nationwide survey that the Census Bureau conducted last year, 21 percent (19.3 million) of households lacked affordable housing during the 12 months prior to the survey. This figure is unchanged from the 1990 Census. Moreover, more than one-tenth (11 percent) of households had a severe housing burden.

Not surprisingly, housing costs were a bigger problem for renters than for homeowners (mainly because renters tend to have lower incomes). Among renters, 31 percent (13.1 million) of the 35 million renter households lacked affordable housing during 1999-2000; 18 percent (6.4 million) experienced a severe housing burden. By contrast, the C2SS found that, of the country’s 55.5 million owner households, just 15 percent (8.4 million) lacked affordable housing. In fact, 21 percent (11.5 million) of homeowners — mostly those who had no mortgage payments — spent less than 10 percent of their incomes on housing costs. (As was the case with all households, these figures represent no change from the 1990 Census.)

About one-third of homeowners did not pay a mortgage in 1999-2000, and these homeowners spent the smallest shares of their incomes on housing. C2SS results showed that fewer than one in 10 owners (8 percent) who did not have to meet a mortgage payment lacked affordable housing.

Variations by State

The C2SS results also show that residents of California had the greatest overall housing burden in 1999–2000, with 29 percent of households lacking affordable housing. New York (27 percent), Nevada (26 percent), and Hawaii (also 26 percent) followed closely behind. California and New York also ranked highest in the percentage of households with a severe housing burden (16 percent each). In West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the country, overall housing costs relative to income actually were much lower: About 16 percent of households lacked affordable housing, while 26 percent spent less than 10 percent on housing costs. Overall, housing was most affordable in the Midwest.

At the state level, too, homeowners fared better than renters. Among homeowners, those in California and Hawaii had the worst burdens (22 percent in each state lacked affordable housing). Renters were most likely to lack affordable housing in California and Oregon (36 percent each), but were most likely to have severe housing burdens in Louisiana and Oregon.


Kelvin Pollard is a PRB demographer and Mark Mather is a PRB policy analyst.


For More Information

The C2SS provides the first state-level data on social, economic, and housing characteristics since the 1990 Census-up to a full year before the results from the Census 2000 long form. More information about the C2SS, including confidence intervals, is available at www.census.gov/c2ss/www/.