Skip to main content

Everything from Data to Policy, Discussing Findings and Implications of HUD’s Latest Report to Congress on Worst Case Housing Needs

Message From PD&R Senior Leadership
HUD USER Home > PD&R Edge Home > Message From PD&R Senior Leadership

Everything from Data to Policy, Discussing Findings and Implications of HUD’s Latest Report to Congress on Worst Case Housing Needs

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of moderating a panel on HUD’s latest biennial Worst Case Housing Needs (WCHN) Report to Congress, hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). The panel brought together industry experts and practitioners to discuss key findings, policy proposals to address the affordable housing crisis, and the role of government at all levels in addressing our nation’s worst case housing needs. The BPC’s virtual event featured remarks from Peggy Bailey, HUD’s senior advisor on Rental Assistance, a briefing on the report’s key findings from PD&R’s Jennifer Turnham, and a panel discussion with:

Image of Ben Winter, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development in PD&R.Ben Winter, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Development in PD&R.

  • Dennis C. Shea, executive director, J. Ronald Terwilliger Center for Housing Policy, BPC
  • Chris Herbert, managing director, Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies
  • Robin Hughes, president & CEO, Abode Communities
  • Ann Oliva, vice president for housing policy, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

You can rewatch the event on the BPC’s website here and dig into the findings on PD&R’s website. While scrolling through the rich variety of tables and charts created by Barry Steffen and Thyria Alvarez on our website, you can also find historical reports to Congress, including this one from 1992 that describes the nation’s worst case housing needs from the late 1980s. What changed in your community since then? Let us know on Twitter @HUDUSERnews.

If you’re stretched for time and can’t watch the full discussion, below are some quick hits worth noting:

  • Our nation’s affordability crisis pre-dates the pandemic. Peggy said it best: “These issues are not new. People were struggling to afford a home before the pandemic, and even a strong economy with low unemployment didn’t fix it. And who is hit hardest? People with low incomes and people of color.”

  • Reducing worst case housing needs requires a combination of supply- and demand-side solutions and action from all levels of government. Dennis highlighted the importance of bi-partisan solutions, like expanding and improving the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which he says has been the nation’s most successful program in encouraging private investment in the preservation and construction of new affordable rental units for low-income households. Ann complemented that view by espousing the proposed policy of universal housing vouchers as a primary tool to solve housing affordability in the long run. Robin reminded us of the important role that state and local governments play in increasing the availability of affordable housing, especially by easing land use restrictions and regulatory barriers that would streamline the construction of more affordable housing in transit-rich commercial areas.

  • Graph of the percentage of very low-income renters with housing assistance versus the percentage of very low-income renters with worst case needs, grouped by geography.Source: Worst Case Housing Needs Report to Congress, 2021, Exhibit 2-3
  • Housing is infrastructure. Chris reminded us that while demand-side solutions are important, supply-side subsidies “are the gift that keeps on giving” because they create an infrastructure for the community that has lasting value. He recalled the report’s graphic below, which shows how the areas without much housing assistance exhibit more worst case needs. Chris then hypothesized that places that historically participated in supply-side solutions (such as public housing production programs back in the 1930s), laid a foundation for a stronger housing safety net in future generations.

  • Affordable housing programs can promote equity in the housing market, but more can be done to promote equity within affordable housing programs. In her opening brief, Jennifer explained a supplemental chart that shows how Black and Hispanic households are more than twice as likely to have WCHN than non-Hispanic White households.
    Bar graph showing the percent of very low-income renters in a racial group with worst case needs and percent of all households in a racial group with worst case needs.
    Conversely, the rate of WCHN for the lowest income Black households are relatively lower than most other racial categories in this report, partly because the AHS data shows that very low-income (VLI) Black households have higher take-up rates for housing assistance than other groups. This dynamic could mean that housing assistance is one important tool to promote equity within the housing market, but Ann noted that we still need to be intentional about centering equity in the implementation of housing assistance programs. More work is needed to ensure disadvantaged households not only have equitable access to programs, but also achieve equitable outcomes long after entering programs. Stability, housing quality, financial empowerment, and access to high-opportunity neighborhoods are important factors to measure when assessing equitable outcomes of disadvantaged households after receiving assistance.

  • The panel concluded that PD&R’s Worst Case Housing Needs is an important contribution to the housing policy field and recommended additional ways PD&R could examine the data in future WCHN reports. The panelists agreed that the WCHN report supports the need for evidenced-based policymaking at all levels of government and underscored the need for governments to pay close attention to the needs of lowest-income, disadvantaged households. Chris highlighted the uniqueness of the WCHN because it relies on the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey, which allows researchers to consider who is receiving housing assistance when measuring worst case needs as well as unique factors on housing quality. However, Robin noted that the current definition of WCHN leaves out severely overcrowded households in the final tally of worst case needs, where families double (and triple) up to afford the rent in high-cost markets like Los Angeles. She suggests that future studies track overcrowding as another component of worst case needs. Chris and Ann also challenged HUD to further examine the report’s definition of housing quality to ensure it encompasses the factors tenants value when assessing “quality.”

Did you know?

Old AHS measuring tape.
HUD’s Worst Case Housing Needs Report analyzes data from the American Housing Survey — the largest survey of US housing stock dating back over 50 years.

Before 1997, Census Bureau workers conducted the AHS with paper questionnaires and would measure the outside of homes when the respondent did not know their square footage.

Times have changed, and the Census Bureau no longer goes door to door with measuring tapes. However, PD&R’s Director of Housing and Demographic Analysis, George Carter, was able to secure some of the old AHS measuring tapes from the Census Bureau for HUD’s unofficial archives as seen in this photo.

Published Date: 9 November 2021

The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.