Region Forward Blog

Affordable Housing: Groundbreaking Study Informs Local Policymakers and Philanthropy about Regional Needs

Jul 30, 2014
The Report Launched


The Community Foundation of the National Capital Region released a study on July 15 that for the first time examines affordable housing needs from homelessness to homeownership in the Washington area. The Community Foundation with generous support from The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation commissioned the Urban Institute and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to conduct this comprehensive regional report to inform strategic investments in affordable housing by the philanthropic sector as well as inform the public and private sectors.

What makes this report unique are the jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction analyses that lead to a thorough regional picture of housing needs at all income levels as well as detailed information about financial resources dedicated to housing programs from federal state local and philanthropic sources. The picture that emerges from this is stark and highlights the need for a coordinated focused and proactive approach to meet the region’s housing needs.

How much affordable housing do we need in the Washington region?

The answer depends in part on what kind of affordable housing a person needs. The study examined housing security across the spectrum from homelessness (the most severe housing needs) to homeownership (the traditional building block to wealth creation in this country). What the research team found is that in every jurisdiction in our region there are a range of unmet housing needs.

Not one jurisdiction in our region had sufficient affordable and available rental units for extremely low income households. This gap in unmet needs affects not only renters but homeowners and those who would like to become homeowners as well — the average sales price of a home in our region ($376000) is 48 percent higher than what the average low income buyer could afford.

The impact that these high housing costs have on our region’s residents are significant as described by study co-author Leah Hendey on the Metrotrends blog. Real incomes in the region have actually declined by four percent between 2008 and 2012 largely due to the increase in housing prices.

Other key findings from the study include:


• One in four homeless persons in the region was chronically homeless and an increase in permanent supportive housing would reduce homelessness among this population. Sixty-eight percent of emergency winter shelter beds were occupied by the chronically homeless and moving them into permanent supportive housing would have freed up enough beds to meet the gap in immediate shelter needs.

• Most homeless families need affordable housing not permanent supportive housing to address a short-term economic crisis.

Rental Housing:

• Almost half of all renter households in the region have struggled with high housing costs including more than 150000 households with severe housing cost burden (i.e. households who pay more than half their income on rent and utilities).

• Eighty-six percent of extremely low income renters were cost-burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing) including 72 percent who were severely cost-burdened.

• Extremely low income renters faced competition for affordable units. Higher-income households occupied 40 percent of the units that would have been affordable to the poorest tenants producing a regional gap of more than 94000 rental units for extremely low income households.


• Nearly seven in 10 units affordable to very low income households and two-thirds affordable to low income households were occupied by someone in a higher income category.

• There were approximately 1.14 million homes (owned or for sale) in the region most of which were affordable only to middle or high income first-time buyers. For low income first-time buyers 75 percent of these homes would not be affordable to them without assistance.

What can our region’s leaders do to address these significant gaps in our housing inventory? That was part of the focus of the Region Forward Coalition discussion on July 18th. While there is no single answer or program that can solve this complex issue the data in this study provides detailed information to inform and perhaps redirect our local housing policies to better address our current and future housing needs.

The study has been covered by The Washington Post WUSA9 and DCist and is available here.

COG released its annual report on homelessness in the Washington area earlier this year.

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