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Through the Roof: What Communities Can Do About the High Cost of Rental Housing in America

Jeffrey Lubell, Abt Global; Ingrid Gould, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service; and Mark A. Willis, NYU Furman Center for Real Estate & Urban Policy


March 3, 2021

Over the past half-century, U.S. households, especially renters, have seen a dramatic shift in their budgets. Rents have risen, incomes have not kept pace, and, as a result, renter households are spending a growing portion of their incomes on shelter. The share of renters who are rent-burdened—paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent—rose from less than a quarter in 1960 to nearly half in 2016. Even more striking, the share of renter households that are severely rent-burdened—paying more than half of their income on rent—rose from 13 to 26 percent during this same period. Housing costs have also risen for homeowners.

Drawing from the authors’ experience building and working with the National Community of Practice on Local Housing Policy, this report shows what U.S. cities, towns, and counties can do to mitigate the rising cost of rental housing. It considers the root causes of high rent burdens, reviews evidence about the consequences, and lays out a framework that localities can use to help provide all their citizens with safe, decent, affordable housing options.