Disappearing Act: Affordable Housing in DC is Vanishing Amid Sharply Rising Housing Costs

by Jenny Reed | May 7th, 2012 | PDF of this report

Introduction

Over the last decade, DC has experienced a rapid rise in housing costs that has contributed to a substantial loss of low-cost housing stock.  Since 2000, the number of low-cost rental units in the city has fallen by half, due primarily to rising prices, and the number of lower-value homes fell by nearly three quarters.  The incomes of DC households have not kept pace with increasing costs; in fact, incomes were stagnant for most low-and moderate-income households while growing slower than housing costs for many others.   

Increasing housing costs and stagnant incomes mean that a growing share of DC households face severe housing cost burdens.  Since 2000, the number of households paying more than half of their income on housing has risen by 15,000, and this occurred almost exclusively among renter households. Very low-income households are the most likely to face these severe housing burdens, with just under two-thirds paying more than half of their income on rent in 2010.  Paying more than half of one’s income on housing is considered a severe housing burden by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and can leave low-income families with little left to take care of other necessities like food, clothing, medicine and transportation.    

Highlights of the analysis include: 

  • Rents and home values have risen sharply since 2000.  The median rent in DC for a one-bedroom apartment has risen by 50 percent beyond inflation over the past decade, from $735 in 2000 to $1,100 in 2010.[1]  DC’s rents continued to rise even during the recession and in fact increased more during the downturn than in the seven years prior to the onset of the recession.  Home values also have increased sharply since 2000.  Despite falling somewhat during the recession, median home values in 2010 are $400,000 — nearly double the median value in 2000.       
  • DC has lost more than half of its low-cost rental units and 72 percent of its low-value homes.  The number of low-cost rental units — defined as having monthly rent and utility costs of less than $750 a month — fell from 70,600 to 34,500 over the last decade.  Meanwhile the number of rental units with costs over $1,500 more than tripled.  The number of low-value homes — defined as having a value of $250,000 or less — fell from 63,645 in 2000 to just 17,640 in 2010, while the number of homes valued over $500,000 more than doubled.  
  • Household incomes have not kept pace with the rise in housing costs.  Incomes for the bottom 40 percent of DC households have not increased since 2000, while incomes for the others rose less than 25 percent, still lower than the rise in home costs.  
  • A growing share of DC households pays more than half of their income towards their housing costs.  By 2010, roughly 1 in 5 DC households — 51,150 — had a severe housing burden, an increase of 40 percent since 2000. Very low-income households are most likely to be faced with severe housing burdens.  In 2010, just under two-thirds of households with incomes below 30 percent of area median income, or $31,050 for a family of four, paid more than half of their income on housing.  The majority of households with severe housing burdens work at least part-time, and the largest group is singles without children.

[1] In DC, one-bedroom apartments make up the largest share of the rental stock.

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