The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued new research and data showing that, despite historically high housing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of sheltered homelessness declined in 2021.
Through the data, HUD experts and independent research suggests that pandemic relief efforts prevented a potential surge in evictions and housing instability, while temporarily reducing homelessness during the height of the pandemic.
In an article published in HUD’s online magazine, the PD&R Edge, HUD experts also outline key lessons from past research about how the federal, state and local governments can work together to prevent and end homelessness.
HUD’s Solomon Greene, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research; Todd M. Richardson, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research; Jemine A. Bryon, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Special Needs, Office of Community Planning and Development; and Richard Cho, Senior Advisor for Housing and Services, Office of the Secretary, all contributed to the research presented in HUD’s PD&R Edge.
The Executive Summary of the biennial Worst Case Housing Needs report analyzes data from 2021, and estimates that 8.53 million renter households had “worst case needs” in that year, the highest number since HUD started estimating these needs in 1978.
HUD defines households with “worst case needs” as renter households with very low incomes (incomes at or below 50% of area median income) who do not receive government housing assistance, and pay more than one-half of their income for rent, live in severely inadequate conditions, or both. Much of this increase was driven by rising rents and severe cost burdens faced by many low-income families as the rental market tightened.
The 2023 Worst Case Housing Needs report shows that 8.53 million housed renter households had worst case needs in 2021, an increase of 760,000 cases, compared with 7.77 million in 2019. For 97% of those with worst case needs, they were paying more than half their income for housing; just 3% of worst case needs were due to substandard housing alone. The report concludes that the rise in worst case needs was largely driven by rapid rent increases and crushing cost burdens facing very low-income families during the pandemic.
Worst Case Needs calculation of income excludes the one-time payment assistance of most of the pandemic protections noted above, except unemployment assistance. As such, in 2021 many of those with worst case needs were likely able to counter their high rent burdens with funding from the pandemic-related federal interventions noted above or forestall evictions due to eviction moratoriums in place at the time.
Despite these trends, HUD’s Annual Homelessness Assessment Report: Part 2 for FY21 shows that fewer people entered a shelter program in 2021, and sheltered homelessness overall decreased by 17% between 2019 and 2021.
HUD leaders summarize the research and suggest that federal interventions, including the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program, eviction moratoria, income supports like stimulus payments, the enhanced unemployment insurance, and the enhanced Child Tax Credit, the federal government helped prevent a worsening of homelessness and evictions.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress were able to prevent millions of people from experiencing evictions and housing loss. We were able prevent a spike in homelessness during the height of the pandemic,” said HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge. “While we didn’t solve the challenge of homelessness—only ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing and access to supportive care can do that—these data provide valuable insights about how we address homelessness and ensure every person has a safe and stable place to call home.”
Building on best practices and evidenced-based research, the Biden Administration has deployed historic resources in 2023 to address the homeless crisis. Earlier this year, HUD released a package of grants totaling $486 million, and approximately 3,300 housing vouchers to help 62 communities address unsheltered homelessness and homeless encampments.
In addition, through the ALL INside initiative, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) and its 19 federal member agencies will partner with state and local governments to strengthen and accelerate local efforts to get unsheltered people into homes in six places: Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Phoenix Metro, Seattle, and the State of California.