Housing costs determine whether individuals and families can live in a neighborhood without sacrificing other basic necessities, such as food and health care. Yet almost 20 million households with adults age 50 and over living in them are housing cost-burdened. That is, they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Approximately 9.8 million households headed by someone age 50 or older are considered severely cost-burdened. They spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing. Housing-cost burden affects both homeowners and renters, but renters are more likely to experience it.
Renters typically have lower incomes than homeowners. They also usually face rising rents each year. Homeowners with fixed-rate mortgages have more predictable housing costs (see also Home Mortgage Lending). Homeowners typically are less housing cost-burdened than renters across age groups. However, the difference is greatest for families with adults age 80 and older, in which renters are twice as likely to be housing cost-burdened. Nearly 60 percent of these renter households are cost-burdened, compared with 29 percent of homeowners in the same age group.
Older renters tend to be more rent-burdened than younger renters. The Pew Research Center found that in 2015, over half of renters headed by someone age 65 or older spend at least 30 percent of their income on rent. And 23 percent of renters in this age group spent at least half their income on rent. This leaves very little money for other necessities, such as food and health care. People with high housing-cost burdens may be at risk of eviction and displacement if appropriate tenant protection laws are not in place. The severe shortage of affordable housing can put families and individuals at risk for homelessness.
Policymakers can address affordability by increasing subsidies for housing. They can also increase the size and diversity of housing to promote affordability. This can be achieved through the new construction of missing middle housing. This term refers to attached housing, duplexes, tiny homes, and accessory dwelling units that are on the same lot as an existing home (see also Effective Planning—policy on Zoning).
Access to counsel in eviction cases: In criminal cases, defendants have the right to an attorney. The government provides one to those who cannot afford to pay. However, in civil cases, there is generally no right to counsel. This is true even when important rights are at stake, such as the right to remain in your home and avoid eviction. Nationwide, 90 percent of tenants lack counsel in eviction proceedings, compared with just 10 percent of landlords. This puts tenants at a disadvantage, with most losing their cases. It harms families who face eviction and their communities. Some cities have begun to address this imbalance. At least two—New York and San Francisco—have created a right to counsel in eviction proceedings. Others are expanding the right to counsel, for example, by expanding legal services funding for this type of work (see also Personal and Legal Rights: Legal Services).