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Understanding Sub-Standard Housing

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The United States’ Housing Need is Great
In America alone, 95 million people experience housing problems, including cost burden, overcrowding, poor housing quality and homelessness.13

  • Cost burdens: Households that pay more than half of household income for housing and/or live in severely dilapidated conditions have a 'critical housing need.' The total number of households with critical housing needs declined slightly between 2001 and 2003, to 14.1 million, or roughly one out of eight American households.14
  • Overcrowding: the number of people living in the house is greater than the total number of rooms in the house. About 6.1 million households live in overcrowded conditions.1
  • Physical inadequacy: severe physical deficiencies, such as having no hot water, no electricity, no toilet, or neither a bathtub nor a shower. One out of every seven poor families lives in severely physically inadequate housing.2

More Than 11 Million Americans Face Worst-case Needs
According to a report prepared for Congress in 2003 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 5.1 million American households face "worst-case housing needs." These families:

  • Are renters receiving no government assistance.
  • Make less than 50 percent of the area median income.
  • Pay more than 50 percent of their income for rent and utilities and/or live in housing with severe physical deficiencies.
  • Include some 3.6 million children, 1.6 million elderly adults and 1.3 million disabled adults.3

Government Aid is Not Helping Most in Need
Of the 30 million households with housing problems, 14.5 million qualify for government aid, yet only 4.1 million are actually receiving any.

In fact, most of the U.S. government's housing subsidies do not benefit the poor. For example, in 1995, homeowners earning more than $100,000 per year received a total of $28.9 billion in federal income tax deductions on mortgage interest payments. By comparison, the entire 1999 budget of HUD was only $25 billion.4

Affordable Housing is Getting Harder to Find
For every 100 very low-income renters, only 76 affordable rental Centers are currently available. Between 1997 and 2001, the number of available Centers declined 13 percent; there were 1.8 million fewer Centers that very low-income renters could afford.5

To afford the fair-market price of the average U.S. two-bedroom rental Center, renters working full-time need to earn at least $15.28 per hour. That's almost three times the current federal minimum wage, and 37 percent more than renters needed to earn in 1999.6

For the 14.8 million U.S. households that make $10,000 or less per year, a year's rent costs about 70 percent of their annual income.7

More than 2 million housing Centers have "severe physical problems." This includes 1.4 million that have severe plumbing problems. About 1.6 million have one or more rooms without electrical outlets.8

Affordable Housing is Needed Throughout the World
Currently there are some 1.2 billion people worldwide experiencing "income poverty," meaning they live on the equivalent of less than one dollar per day.9

The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS) has estimated that 1.1 billion people are living in inadequate housing conditions in urban areas alone.10

UNCHS has estimated that some approximately 21 million new housing Centers are required each year in developing countries to accommodate growth in the number of households during the period between 2000 and 2010 period. Some 14 million additional Centers would be required each year for the next 20 years if the current housing deficit is to be replaced by 2020.11

In Latin America, households need 5.4 times their annual income to buy a house. In Africa, they need an average of 12.5 times their annual income.

The highest rents are found in the Arab States, where a household spends an average of 45 percent of its monthly income on rent.

Real estate costs are highest in Asia and the Pacific where one square meter of land for a serviced plot costs an average of $3.10 in U.S. dollars.

People Worldwide Need Decent Housing in Decent Neighborhoods
Less than 20 percent of households in Africa are connected to piped water, and only 40 percent have piped water within 200 meters of their home.

In the developing world, 29 percent of cities have areas considered as "inaccessible" or "dangerous" to the police. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this figure is 48 percent.

In cities of the developing world, one out of every four households lives in poverty. Forty percent of African urban households are living below the locally defined poverty line.

Less than 35 percent of cities in the developing world have their wastewater treated.

In countries with economies in transition, 75 percent of solid wastes are disposed of in open dumps.12


1 Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, The State of the Nation's Housing 2004.
2 The U.S. Census Bureau's 1993 American Housing Survey.
3 The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Trends in Worst Case Housing 1978-1999 report, December 2003.
4 Dreier, Peter, "The New Politics of Housing," Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 63, No. 1, Winter 1997, American Planning Association, Chicago, Ill. Budget Info for HUD.
5 HUD's Trends in Worst Case Housing 1978-1999.
6 The National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach 2003: America's Housing Wage Climbs.
7 Income and Poverty: American Fact finder.
8 The United Nations Commission On Human Settlements US Habitat II Progress Report, 1997 through 1999.
9 World Bank. 2000. World Development Report, Washington, Table 1.1.
10 UNCHS (Habitat). 1999. Basic Facts on Urbanisation, Nairobi, p. 9.
11 UNCHS (Habitat). 1999. Basic Facts on Urbanisation, Nairobi, table 9.
12 UNCHS (The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements) State of the Cities Report 2001 March.
13 National Low Income Housing Coalition, America's Neighbors: The Affordable Housing Crisis and the People if Affects.
14 Center for Housing Policy, The Housing Landscape for America's Working Families Report 2005.