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Characteristics of HUD-Assisted Renters

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Characteristics of HUD-Assisted Renters

Characteristics of HUD-Assisted Renters

A new study sponsored by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research provides information on the characteristics of the households living in HUD-assisted housing, including public housing residents, residents of project-based voucher units, and housing choice voucher tenants. The report is the sixth in a series of reports that details the size, composition, and quality of the HUD-assisted housing stock.

In “Characteristics of HUD-Assisted Renters and Their Units in 2013,” researchers use data from the American Housing Survey to develop a representative sample of households participating in HUD’s various housing programs and analyze how these households compare with households that are eligible for HUD’s housing assistance programs but are not currently in assisted housing. Overall, the study is consistent with past research findings.

HUD-Assisted Housing Programs

HUD provides most of its federally assisted housing through three programs. The public housing program represents a partnership between HUD and local public housing agencies (PHAs) nationwide. In this partnership, PHAs own and operate developments and HUD provides capital and operating subsidies to support low-income tenants.

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program provides eligible households with a voucher that is used to rent privately owned housing. As with the public housing program, tenants pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, and the voucher is used to pay the remaining cost to the landlord. Although the public housing program is considered a project-based program because the assistance is tied to a project, the Section 8 program is considered a tenant-based program because households can use their vouchers to reside in the unit of their choosing, provided that the landlord will accept the voucher.

The third program is composed of privately owned housing developments with a long-term HUD rental assistance contract in place. These project-based developments are owned by private companies that lease the units to low-income residents; the HUD rental assistance contract provides a subsidy to keep the tenants’ housing costs affordable while financially supporting the development.

Trends in Assisted Housing Programs

HUD’s assisted housing programs target very low-income households earning up to 50 percent of the area median income. Note, however, that unlike other assistance programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, not every household that is eligible for HUD assistance receives it. In 2013, only 23.8 percent of the approximately 18,856,000 households eligible for housing assistance lived in HUD-assisted housing. Although this figure represents a slight increase from the 21.1 percent of assisted households in 2011, it means that more than three-quarters of eligible households do not receive housing assistance. In 1989, more than 29 percent of eligible households lived in assisted housing.

Since 1989, the proportion of households participating in the Housing Choice Voucher program has increased, while participation in both the public housing program and privately owned, project-based properties has decreased. In 1989, 26 percent of HUD-assisted households were voucher participants; by 2013, that number had increased to nearly 47 percent. Over the same period, the proportion of HUD-assisted households living in public housing decreased from 33.4 percent to 22.9 percent, and the proportion of assisted households living in private, project-based housing decreased from 40.5 percent to 30.2 percent.

Location and Unit Characteristics

Recipients of HUD-assisted housing are more likely to live in the northeast region of the United States and less likely to live in the western states. Although only 19 percent of all renters and 20 percent of eligible renters live in the northeast, 28 percent of HUD-assisted housing is in the Northeast, where older PHAs are concentrated. By comparison, 28 percent of all renters and 25 percent of eligible renters reside in the West compared with only 18 percent of HUD-assisted renters.

Metropolitan areas have a higher concentration of assisted housing than do nonmetropolitan areas, with greater concentrations located within a metropolitan area’s central cities than in its suburbs; the disparity is most pronounced within the public housing program, where nearly 62 percent of units are in central cities.

Distribution of HUD-Assisted Housing by Metropolitan Status, 2013

Location HUD-Assisted Renters Total Eligible Renters (%) All Renters (%)
All HUD Assisted (%) Tenants in Public Housing (%) Voucher Recipients (%) Tenants in Privately Owned Housing (%)
Inside metropolitan statistical areas 87.4 84.1 89.5 87.5 88.1 87.5
In central cities 55.2 61.8 52.4 49.5 47.2 47.8
In suburbs 32.2 22.2 37.2 37.9 40.9 39.7
Outside metropolitan statistical areas 12.6 16.0 10.5 12.5 11.9 12.5

Source: “Characteristics of HUD-Assisted Renters and Their Units in 2013,” 9. Totals may not add to 100 percent due to rounding.

Since 1989, the distribution of HUD-assisted housing has not changed significantly; the percentage of HUD-assisted units has slightly increased in suburban communities, slightly decreased in central cities, and decreased in nonmetropolitan areas.

Household Characteristics

The median household income for all renters nationally in 2013 was $30,200 compared with only $11,900 for voucher-assisted households and $10,800 for public housing residents. Residents in privately owned assisted housing had a median household income of less than $10,300. The income of voucher-assisted and public housing households relative to all renter households has remained largely unchanged since 1989.

Residents of HUD-assisted housing have different sources of income from other renters. Overall, 71.8 percent of renter households earn their income from wages compared with 38.1 percent of HUD-assisted households and 53 percent of income-eligible households. Median household income and source of income data reinforce the finding that the HUD-assisted housing programs typically serve the lowest income households.

In 2013, 26.5 percent of all renter households and 19.8 percent of income-eligible renter households consisted of married couples; the percentage across all HUD programs ranged between 9.6 and 11.6 percent. Approximately 70 percent of HUD-assisted households are female headed compared with 53 percent of income-eligible households and 42 percent of all renter households.

Housing Cost Burdens

The 2013 data show that approximately 61 percent of income-eligible households have excessive rent burdens compared with 36 percent of HUD-assisted households. Nearly 60 percent of HUD-assisted households are paying less than 34 percent of their income toward rent compared with just 22 percent of income-eligible renters. These findings show that HUD-assisted housing programs have been successful in stabilizing housing costs and show the variation that allows some assisted households to pay more than 30 percent of their income towards housing.


The report builds on previous research and is consistent with broader trends in HUD-assisted housing. It shows that HUD’s assisted housing programs are targeting the lowest income households and support the availability of affordable housing. The data also show a trend toward increased participation in the Housing Choice Voucher program and decreased participation in project-based assistance programs.

Published Date: 11 September 2017

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.