Housing Vouchers Don’t Keep Up With Rising Rents

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Housing Choice Voucher program is intended to give renters enough to afford 40 percent of the rentals in their market. The value of the vouchers is set according to HUD’s Fair Market Rent index (FMR). However, Zillow’s research found that 75 of the 100 largest U.S. counties do not meet this threshold. In 15 countiesii, voucher holders could rent less than 10 percent of available rentals.

For the typical renter, monthly housing costs require a larger share of income than they did in the 1980s and 1990s. For low-income renters, the situation is much worse. In nearly all of the nation’s largest markets, low-income renters can expect to spend more than 45 percent of their monthly income on rentiii, significantly more than the suggested 30 percent that guides most federal policy. Vouchers are designed to help low-income renters afford housing, but long wait lists and the fact that HUD’s FMRs aren’t keeping up with on-the-ground rents in many markets limit the efficacy of the program.

HUD’s FMRs are not increasing at the same pace as actual rents in many places. Fair Market Rent growth trails Zillow® Rent Index (ZRI) appreciation in half of the 100 counties analyzed. In Lee County, Florida, home to Fort Myers and Cape Coral, the FMR has risen 2.1 percent since 2012, while the ZRI increased 43.7 percent.

In the counties where voucher-value growth doesn’t keep pace with market rents, voucher-holders have fewer options for rental units, and this is especially true in counties where rents are increasing fastest. In Los Angeles County, rents have risen 25 percent since 2012, but FMR has grown only 6.8 percent. Just 7 percent of rental listings in the county are considered affordable even with a housing voucher.

“Many markets with strong rent growth tend to also have the types of jobs that could help renters climb the socioeconomic ladder,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. “However, many low-income households – even those with a voucher – are increasingly being priced out of these markets, unable to find affordable housing options near these jobs. If rents and HUD’s Fair Market Rents continue to move at different paces, this affordability crisis will only worsen for low-income renters.”

In most major markets, there are far more renters who need the assistance of a housing voucher than there are vouchers. For people who can’t get a housing voucher, the consequences of rising rents can be even more severe. In many major job markets, rising rents lead to a larger homeless populationiv. A five percent increase in rents in the New York metropolitan area would lead to an estimated 3,000 more homeless people. The homeless population in Los Angeles would grow by an estimated 2,000 people if a similar rent increase occurred.

County Name

Percent of 2BR Units
Listed Below 2BR FMR

ZRI Change
Since 2012

FMR Change Since
2012

Los Angeles, CA

7.1%

24.6%

6.8%

Cook, IL

20.2%

12.1%

28.6%

Harris, TX

14.2%

17.1%

4.2%

Maricopa, AZ

27.1%

16.2%

8.5%

San Diego, CA

23.4%

24.9%

26.3%

Orange, CA

8.9%

22.3%

9.7%

Kings, NY

3.8%

35.4%

15.0%

Miami-Dade, FL

3.4%

19.1%

15.1%

Dallas, TX

11.3%

24.2%

18.8%

Queens, NY

3.2%

28.8%

15.0%

Riverside, CA

22.0%

18.0%

4.2%

San Bernardino, CA

41.7%

16.8%

4.2%

Clark, NV

37.8%

9.4%

-6.8%

King, WA

12.5%

43.0%

40.6%

Wayne, MI

48.4%

3.1%

14.2%

Tarrant, TX

21.3%

18.5%

12.7%

Santa Clara, CA

8.8%

39.7%

36.8%

Broward, FL

19.9%

11.6%

10.1%

Bexar, TX

30.3%

18.6%

26.8%

New York, NY

0.1%

16.9%

15.0%

Philadelphia, PA

31.9%

10.3%

12.7%

Alameda, CA

16.1%

47.7%

55.0%

Middlesex, MA

5.1%

18.0%

21.1%

Bronx, NY

24.6%

13.3%

15.0%

Nassau, NY

18.0%

22.1%

11.7%

Palm Beach, FL

29.5%

23.4%

20.4%

Cuyahoga, OH

31.8%

11.2%

7.4%

Hillsborough, FL

20.0%

16.1%

9.5%

Allegheny, PA

23.6%

17.8%

18.6%

Oakland, MI

16.6%

14.3%

14.2%

Franklin, OH

36.6%

12.2%

12.2%

Hennepin, MN

10.1%

20.6%

20.1%

Orange, FL

16.9%

19.9%

7.1%

Fairfax, VA

29.3%

5.9%

15.9%

Contra Costa, CA

35.6%

35.0%

55.0%

Zillow

Zillow® is the leading real estate and rental marketplace dedicated to empowering consumers with data, inspiration and knowledge around the place they call home, and connecting them with the best local professionals who can help. In addition, Zillow operates an industry-leading economics and analytics bureau led by Zillow’s Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. Dr. Gudell and her team of economists and data analysts produce extensive housing data and research covering more than 450 markets at Zillow Real Estate Research. Zillow also sponsors the quarterly Zillow Home Price Expectations Survey, which asks more than 100 leading economists, real estate experts and investment and market strategists to predict the path of the Zillow Home Value Index over the next five years. Launched in 2006, Zillow is owned and operated by Zillow Group (NASDAQ: Z and ZG), and headquartered in Seattle.

Zillow is a registered trademark of Zillow, Inc.

i Measured by the Zillow Rent Index and Zillow Rental Listings data.

ii It is likely that online real estate listings may disproportionately miss less expensive rental properties. There is no known national database of rental listings. We don’t expect missing some of the least-expensive rentals to be more or less severe in some areas compared to others.

iiihttps://www.zillow.com/research/low-income-rentals-unaffordable-16158/

ivhttps://www.zillow.com/research/rents-larger-homeless-population-16124/

SOURCE Zillow, Inc.

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About the Author: Bob Cooper

Bob Cooper is Canadian Business Tribune''s senior editor. He is also a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist and a bestselling author. He lives in London Ontario and covers the intersection of money, politics and finance. He appears periodically on national television shows and has been published in (among others) The National Post, Politico, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Wired.com, Vice and Salon.com. He also has served as a journalist and consultant on documentaries for CBC and Global News . In 2014, he was the winner of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers' investigative journalism award, and the winner of the Izzy Award for Journalism from Ithaca College's Park Center for Independent Media. He was also a finalist for UCLA's Gerald R. Loeb Award and Syracuse University's Mirror Award. Before becoming a journalist in 2006, Sirota worked in Washington for, among others, U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee Minority Staff and the Center for American Progress.