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Affordable Housing Crisis Threatens DC’s Lowest-Income Residents

CONTACT: Claire Zippel, Policy Analyst / 202-325-8351 /

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, according to new analysis by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. Yet only a fraction of the city’s investment in affordable housing has reached the households in greatest need.

The report, A Broken Foundation: Affordable Housing Crisis Threatens DC’s Lowest-Income Residents, released today by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 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).


The report finds that 26,000 extremely low-income DC households spend more than half their income on rent.

  • 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 ELI renters can afford to pay more than $800 a month in rent, a majority do.
  • Nearly one of five children in the District live in such situations.
  • The typical profile is a working mother raising two children, a person with a disability relying on a fixed income, or a childless adult in a low-wage, service-sector job.

The report also found that while the District’s affordable housing investments are substantial, 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 this population.
  • While 26,000 extremely low-income renters face severe challenges affording housing, only 2,100 received new help over the past six years.

“Despite the city’s tremendous efforts to invest in affordable housing, we are not doing enough to reach the DC residents who are threatened the most by DC’s housing crisis,” said Claire Zippel, the report’s author and Policy Analyst at DCFPI.

The worsening affordable housing crisis is creating serious challenges in all aspect of extremely low-income families’ lives, according to the report. Paying a large share of income for housing leaves many 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. Children in such stressful environments often face developmental challenges and struggle to succeed in school. (See more details below.)

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. (See more details below.)

“DC’s severe affordable housing crisis is threatening the very foundation of the city’s poorest residents,” said Zippel. “When families are at constant risk of eviction, or have an empty fridge, or cannot even afford bus fare because they have to devote nearly all their income to rent, the chances of getting ahead are slim. The affordable housing crisis is harming not only the health and well-being of DC’s lowest-income residents, but undercuts the dream of economic mobility for thousands.”

The report offers recommendations to ensure that DC’s extremely low-income residents have a stable place to live and a foundation for success. This includes a directing a greater share of the District’s housing production to the lowest-income households, expanding rental assistance through the Local Rent Supplement Program, and preserving the city’s remaining housing affordable to extremely low-income residents.

“The next steps in the District’s efforts to tackle the affordable housing crisis should focus on the families facing the most dire housing challenges,” said Claire Zippel.

For a PDF of this press release, click here.

JPEGs of the graphics in the report are available upon request.


Affordable Housing Critical to Low-Income Families’ Health and Success

For the lowest-income households, lack of affordable housing has many serious consequences:

  • Over 7,000 DC households were served eviction notices in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available).
  • There were more homeless children and parents in DC than homeless single adults on a single night in 2016, for the first time since data collection began 15 years ago.
  • One in eight poor families with children had lived on the street or in a shelter in just the past year, according to a six-city study.
  • Nearly half of poor families live in overcrowded conditions, according to the same study.
  • Families without affordable housing spend $150 per month less on food, on average.
  • Children in severely rent burdened families or in overcrowded conditions score worse on cognitive achievement tests.
  • Children who move frequently or live in crowded conditions are more likely than other children to fall behind and drop out of school.
  • Low-wage workers who move involuntarily are more likely to lose their jobs.
  • Families who have trouble paying the rent or live doubled-up are more likely to delay medical care or filling needed prescriptions.
  • People who are behind on rent are more likely to report being
  • Families who have trouble paying the rent or live doubled-up are more likely to delay medical care or filling needed prescriptions.

Gaining affordable housing benefits other aspects of life and promotes long-term success:

  • The likelihood of becoming homelessness is nearly eliminated, especially for families with children, and families are far less likely living in overcrowded or doubled-up situations.
  • Households move less frequently, and when they do move, it is to lower-poverty neighborhoods.
  • Families buy more food—on average, they are able to spend 60 percent more on groceries.
  • Children gain an adulthood earnings boost for each year they live in affordable housing.
  • Job programs for adults are more effective.

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