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Affordability and Availability of Rental Housing in Pennsylvania

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Report Sections

  • Executive Summary

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  • Chapter 1: Introduction

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  • Chapter 2: Housing Characteristics in Pennsylvania and Neighboring States in 2000

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  • Chapter 3: Housing Conditions of Pennsylvania's Lower Income Renters in 2000

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  • Chapter 4: A Mid-Decade Update: Housing Conditions in 2005-06

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  • Chapter 5: Implications for Policymakers and Suggested Research

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  • Appendix A: County Level Housing Characteristics in 2000

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  • Appendix B: Measuring National Needs for Affordable Rental Housing: A Brief Review of Past Research and Strategy Recommendations

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  • Appendix C: Methodology for Calculating Affordable and Available Rental Housing Units Using CHAS Data

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  • Appendix D: County-Level Examination of Rental Housing Needs in 2000

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  • Appendix E: Using 2005 and 2006 ACS Data to Assess Rental Housing Needs

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  • Appendix F: Changes Between 1990 and 2000 by DCED Regions and Consolidated PUMAs

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  • Appendix G: Changes Between 2000 and 2005-06 by DCED Regions and Consolidated PUMAs

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  • Bibliography

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  • Glossary

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Chapter 3: Housing Conditions of Pennsylvania's Lower-Income Renters In 2000

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This chapter focuses on two closely related topics: the housing problems of Pennsylvania’s lower-income renters and the availability of rental units affordable to this group in 2000. We examine these topics for the state as a whole and for counties within the state. We also compare conditions in Pennsylvania with those in the nation and in neighboring states.

All of the statistics provided in this chapter are computed from comprehensive housing affordable strategies (CHAS) data, which are special tabulations of 2000 census data funded by HUD that classified renter and owner households and their housing problems by income, and housing units and their characteristics by affordability.25 We use a methodology similar to that of several national studies described in Appendix B, most notably the 2004 study by the NLIHC, Losing Ground in the Best of Times: Low Income Renters in the 1990s.26 The methodology itself is described in Appendix C.

The availability of CHAS data for 1990 and 2000 made it possible to examine housing conditions faced by low-income renters in both 1990 and 2000. As context for the 2000 findings presented in this chapter, CHAS data show that housing conditions improved somewhat from 1990 to 2000 in Pennsylvania.27 The income distribution of lower-income renter households and vacancy rates both remained relatively constant throughout that decade, but cost burden pressures eased, especially for very low-income (VLI) renters. Similarly, shortages of affordable rental housing eased across the state. Yet despite these improvements, the incidence of housing problems among extremely low-income (ELI) renters remained high in 2000, as the statistics presented in this chapter show.

Defining Income Groups

There are several ways to define income groups in general and low income in particular.28 This study distinguishes renters in three lower-income ranges:

Renter Household Group HUD-Adjusted Area Median Family Income (HAMFI) Range29
Extremely Low Income (ELI) Less than or equal to 30% of HAMFI
Very Low Income (VLI) Between 30.1% and 50.0% of HAMFI
Low Income (LI) Between 50.1% and 80.0% of HAMFI

The definitions from the table above can be put in context with a couple of simple examples. Data from the 2000 census indicate that in 1999 Pike County had the highest median family income for Pennsylvania counties. The HAMFI thresholds for a four-person household in that county in 1999 were $17,600 for ELI renter households, $29,350 for VLI renter households, and $46,950 for LI renter households. By contrast, in Forest County, which had the lowest median family income in Pennsylvania in 1999, the HAMFI thresholds were $12,500 for ELI renter households, $20,850 for VLI renter households, and $33,350 for LI renter households.30

In the remainder of this study, we use the abbreviation AMI to refer to HUD-adjusted area median family income, or HAMFI, unless otherwise noted. In addition, we use the term lower income to include ELI, VLI, and LI renter households.

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  • 25 The Cranston-Gonzalez National Affordable Housing Act of 1990 (NAHA) required states and local jurisdictions to prepare and submit such strategies to HUD, and the CHAS tabulations were developed to assist state and local governments in meeting this mandate. See Appendix B for additional details on CHAS and NAHA.
  • 26 See Nelson et al. (2004). In this report, the NLIHC examines changes in housing problems and in the affordability and availability of rental housing at the state level between 1990 and 2000. We use the same methodology in this study. The data in this study are similar to data in the NLIHC’s report, although some values vary slightly due to rounding. In addition, the data in this study come from the CHAS files re-issued in November 2004, whereas data in the NLIHC’s 2004 report come from the initial CHAS files issued in September 2003. See HUD’s website External Link for additional information.
  • 27 Appendix F compares conditions in 1990 and 2000 in Pennsylvania.
  • 28 See Nelson (1994) for a discussion of low income definitions and their origins. By statute, the HUD definitions of low income and very low income for assisted housing programs differ from those used for the community development block grant (CDBG) program, which defines low income as below 50 percent of AMI and moderate income as below 80 percent of AMI. Nelson’s article also compares low-income thresholds to poverty thresholds, noting that poverty is close, on average, to ELI. See the section on “Defining Income Groups” in this chapter for a description of the income terminology used in this study. In addition, see Appendix D, Table 1 for very low-income thresholds for each Pennsylvania county.
  • 29 In classifying households into income groups, HUD adjusts area median family income by household size. Adjustments are also made for locations with unusually high or low income-to-housing-cost relationships. The resulting set of area-specific median incomes for households of different sizes are known as HUD-adjusted area median family incomes (HAMFI). HUD calculates HAMFI annually for each metropolitan area and each nonmetropolitan county across the country. HUD’s “Fiscal Year 2008 HUD Income Limits Briefing Materials” describes all the statutory adjustments applied in setting the official income limits.
  • 30 Forest County shares the lowest HAMFI thresholds with many other counties in the state because of a statutory floor on income thresholds. See Appendix D, Table 1 for additional information. In addition, income limits are available on the CHAS section of HUD User. External Link
  • Last update: February 2, 2010