A Broken Foundation: Affordable Housing Crisis Threatens DC’s Lowest-Income Residents

by Claire Zippel | December 8th, 2016 | PDF of this report

The disappearance of low-cost housing in the District is leaving the city’s extremely low-income households financially on edge and poses serious risks to the ability of families to afford enough food, for children to go to school ready to learn, and for adults to get and keep a job. Yet only a fraction of the city’s substantial investments in affordable housing is reaching the households in greatest need.

A Broken Foundation: Affordable Housing Crisis Threatens DC’s Lowest-Income Residents outlines the severe housing challenges faced by the city’s extremely low-income households (those with incomes below 30 percent of the area median, or $32,000 for a family of four). Using data from the US Census Bureau, the report finds:


  • 26,000 extremely low-income DC households spend more than half their income on rent. This includes one-fifth of all children in the District.
  • 62 percent of extremely low income renters face this severe housing hardship, up from 50 percent a decade ago.
  • About one third of these renters cannot afford rent of more than $200, yet only 9 percent have housing at that price. And while almost no extremely low-income renters can afford to pay more than $800 a month in rent, a majority do.

The worsening affordable housing crisis is creating serious challenges in all aspect of extremely low-income residents’ lives. Paying a large share of income for housing leaves many families financially on the edge, putting them at high risk of getting evicted, moving frequently, or becoming homeless, and often forcing them to cut back on groceries and put off medical appointments. Families without affordable housing spend $150 less per month on food than others. Children in severely rent burdened families or in overcrowded conditions are more likely than others to fall behind in school, and drop out.

By contrast, affordable housing provides a strong foundation for families. Research shows that affordable housing reduces harmful instability, improves families’ ability to meet their basic needs, and increases their ability to succeed: children who grow up in affordable housing earn more as adults.

Yet local housing resources are not well targeted to the households in greatest need, despite the strong evidence that affordable housing is critical to the health and success of extremely low-income families. While 77 percent of the DC renters in need of affordable homes are extremely low-income, only 39 percent of subsidized apartments the city has assisted in recent years are within reach of these households.

To ensure that DC’s extremely low-income residents have a stable place to live and a foundation for success, the city should direct a greater share of the District’s housing production to the lowest-income households, expand rental assistance through the Local Rent Supplement Program, and preserve the city’s remaining housing affordable to extremely low-income residents.

Read the full report here.