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Higher income households occupy 20% of Columbus’ affordable housing.

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A concern we hear from housing professionals and advocates in central Ohio is that market-rate affordable housing may be “missing the target” when getting leased out. The perception is that many of these lower-rent units are getting leased out to higher income households, leaving low income households struggling to find available affordable units and consequently adding to the demand for public/subsidized housing. We know from our work in the latest Consolidated Planning process (a community-wide strategic plan for affordable and fair housing, mandated by HUD) that voucher wait lists in Columbus are very long and the supply of subsidized housing is limited. With the current uncertainty of federal support for public housing (and all HUD activity, really), local governments are examining their own commitment to affordable housing.

Thoughtwell can lend a data-informed voice to the affordable housing conversation. Using data from the City of Columbus 2015-2019 Consolidated Plan, we estimate about 20% of all Columbus’ occupied rental units that qualified as “affordable” to low-income households[1] were actually occupied by higher income households. The same holds true for affordable rental units throughout Franklin County. It is possible that this mismatch between affordability and income squeezes out lower income people from market rate housing, partially resulting in long waitlists for housing vouchers.

Why would higher income households “take up” the supply of lower rent housing? That is a great research question. Does it say something about the demand side of housing, and the choices people with higher incomes are making? Affordable housing is defined as spending 30% of income or less on housing costs. Are higher-income folks diverting their income to something other than housing (debt service maybe?) and therefore opting for cheaper rents? Or could we be seeing more people with higher income choosing cheaper rents because of changing values and lifestyles? Do you spend 30% of your income on housing costs? What do you think about central Ohio’s affordable housing?

 

[1] The HUD figures on affordability consider the asking price for a unit, the unit’s average utility costs, and number of bedrooms. This is compared to the income thresholds of “typical” households for the county (e.g. 80% area median income for a family of four). Since the area median income is derived from county-wide incomes, there is reason to question if what counts as “affordable” to a typical Franklin county family is truly affordable to a typical City of Columbus family. The HUD data can’t answer that – but some research could!

Sarah Goodman