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Extremely low-income households, housing affordability and the Great Recession.


The effects of the Great Recession on housing equity and homeownership have been well-documented. However, we know little about how rental households fared and the efficacy of housing subsidies in addressing affordability gaps. This paper examines the extent to which rental housing became less affordable for Extremely Low-Income (ELI) households - those earning less than 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI). I then run regression models to determine the local characteristics most strongly associated with larger affordability gaps, with a focus on whether housing subsidies are effective at combating such gaps. Rental affordability gaps became more pronounced during the Great Recession. In nearly 70% of the counties in my sample, there was an increase from 2007 to 2010 in the number of ELI households per affordable rental unit. Across the country, the increase was 17%, a dramatic increase in only three years. There is considerable variation across the country, with acute affordability crises often concentrated in the South, particularly Florida. Regression models provide compelling evidence that housing vouchers, public housing, and project-based Section 8 subsidies play an important role in limiting the extent to which large numbers of ELI households are competing for a shortage of low-cost rental units. However, these programmes do not respond quickly to local needs - such as those brought about by the Great Recession. A pilot study where local housing authorities had funding to be more agile and responsive would be an important step toward crafting better policy.

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