In 2000, nearly two-thirds of renter households in Pennsylvania (64 percent) had incomes below 80 percent AMI and were thus categorized as LI, VLI, or ELI. Notably, nearly one-quarter of renter households in Pennsylvania were ELI (Table 7).
When compared to the national averages, Pennsylvania had slightly higher percentages of ELI, VLI, and LI renter households out of total renter households in 2000. Among nearby states, only West Virginia and New York had higher shares of ELI renter households (28 percent and 26 percent, respectively, compared to Pennsylvania’s 24 percent).
Over 70 percent of ELI renter households in Pennsylvania faced some type of housing problem: either a cost burden or a housing unit problem, including lacking complete plumbing or kitchen facilities or overcrowding.31 Predictably, those with higher household income had fewer housing problems. In Pennsylvania, 63 percent of VLI renter households and only 28 percent of LI households had housing problems (Table 7). In each income range, Pennsylvania renters had housing problems less frequently than their counterparts throughout the nation. Among nearby states, Pennsylvania most closely resembled Delaware and Ohio, particularly for ELI renter households.
The data show that over three-fourths of ELI renter households with a cost burden actually had a severe cost burden. In Pennsylvania, 69 percent of the ELI renter households had cost burdens and 53 percent had severe cost burdens. These results for Pennsylvania are similar to those for the nation and neighboring states (Table 8).
As has generally been found in national studies, severe cost burdens were substantially less common among VLI and LI renter households. In Pennsylvania, only 16 percent of VLI renter households and 3 percent of LI households had severe cost burdens.
Even though ELI renter households in most states in this region had slightly fewer problems than national averages, housing affordability problems were still widespread.32
Over half of ELI renter households in every state in this area (except West Virginia) had severe cost burdens (Table 8).
While severe cost burdens afflicted over half of ELI renters in 2000, housing unit problems were far less common, particularly in Pennsylvania. ELI, VLI, and LI renter households in Pennsylvania had far fewer housing unit problems than national renters did, on average. Renter households in West Virginia and Ohio also had markedly fewer housing unit problems than renter households in other parts of the country.
As the low incidence of housing unit problems suggests, in each income group most of the renters with a cost burden did not also have a housing unit problem. Indeed, the data in Table 9 are consistent with national experience. In the United States, 83 percent of “worst case” (ELI and VLI) renters identified by HUD had only a severe rent burden in 2005, and that fraction has been rising over the past 20 years.33
While vacancy rates are the most common measure of housing supply, this study uses two indicators to assess more specifically the degree to which lower-income renters face shortages of affordable housing: 34
Rental housing is assumed to be affordable if a household spends less than 30 percent of its income on gross rent (rent plus utilities). The first ratio, affordable units per 100 renter households, compares the total number of renter households at or below an income threshold to the total number of rental housing units affordable at that threshold. The total number of affordable rental housing units includes both occupied units and vacant units offered for rent. If the number of housing units exceeds the number of households in that income group, the ratio is over 100 and there is a surplus of affordable units. Conversely, if the number of housing units is lower than the number of households below that income threshold, the ratio is below 100 and there is a shortage of affordable units.
Such ratios suggest that supplies of affordable housing were nearly adequate in Pennsylvania and in most of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states below each of the lower-income thresholds identified (Table 10). Furthermore, most states in this region fared better than the nation. The marked exception is ELI renter households in New York and New Jersey, with ratios of 63 and 66, respectively. These ratios suggest that there were only two affordable units for every three ELI renters, and thus, there were severe shortages of affordable rental housing units.
In all states except New York, the ratios show that there were many more affordable units than renters below the 50 percent and 80 percent of AMI thresholds. In Pennsylvania, there were 152 and 157 affordable units per 100 renter households with incomes at or below 50 percent and 80 percent of AMI, or three units for every two households. Even ELI renter households appeared to have nearly enough affordable rental units somewhere in the state, as there were 96 affordable units for every 100 ELI renter households.
Table 10 suggests that many states near Pennsylvania have enough units affordable to LI, VLI, and even ELI renter households. But this indicator is misleading because many affordable units are not available to the lower-income renter households that need them the most. Instead, the units are often occupied by renters in higher income groups who pay less than 30 percent of their income for housing.35 For example, if a moderate income renter rents a unit that is affordable at or below the ELI limit, the unit is unavailable to any ELI renter.
Adding a second ratio provides a more realistic assessment of actual shortages or surpluses of rental housing by counting only affordable units that are available to each income group. It includes only 1) housing units affordable at an income threshold that are occupied by renter households with incomes at or below that specified income threshold; and 2) units that are vacant, but intended for rent, and affordable to renter households at the specified threshold.
This more realistic ratio reveals that ELI renter households did face severe affordable rental housing shortages both nationwide and in Pennsylvania, as many fewer affordable units were available to them.36 Table 11 shows that there were only 49 affordable and available housing units per 100 ELI renter households in Pennsylvania in 2000.
When compared to the national averages, Pennsylvania renter households between 0-50 percent of AMI and 0-80 percent of AMI had better supplies of both affordable housing units and affordable and available housing units. Even though ELI renters in Pennsylvania also fared better than the national average, there was still a substantial shortage of affordable and available units, with only one unit for every two renter households.
These housing “affordability and availability” ratios enable relatively easy comparisons of rental housing needs across states or other geographic areas, but they do not provide a sense of the magnitude of the shortages that states face. The ELI shortages are quantified in the final column of Table 11. Pennsylvania is larger than many of its neighboring states in terms of geographic size, renter population, and number of rental housing units. In absolute numbers, Pennsylvania’s shortage of 170,000 units affordable and available to ELI renter households was second only to New York’s shortage of 560,000 units.37