According to the report, for every 100 extremely low-income households in Illinois, there are only 28 available and affordable rental homes. In Illinois, a family of four is considered extremely low-income if their annual income is less than or at $21,650, which is 30 percent of the area median income.
Extremely low-income renters typically spend more than half their income on rent, according to researchers.
“When you are paying 60 or 70 percent of your income toward your housing costs, there’s not much money left for the other necessities of life, such as food, medical costs or investing in your education,” said Bob Palmer, policy director for the statewide housing coalition, Housing Action Illinois.
“In the richest country in the world people shouldn’t have to make choices between paying for housing or paying for food or healthcare,” he said.
One out of four renters nationwide can be considered extremely low-income, and since 2008, the number of people renting homes has increased by almost two million. Yet, as demand increases for rental homes, prices also increase; making it significantly more difficult for extremely low-income renters to find an affordable home, let alone reach economic prosperity.
There are 425,000 extremely low-income renters in Illinois, but only 119,000 rental units are affordable and available to that population, according to the report. With a shortage of more than 300,000 units, Illinois was one of 13 states with less than the national average of 30 affordable and available units per 100 extremely low-income households.
In the Chicagoland area, there were close to 1.2 million rental households in 2011, and 28 percent (320,000) were extremely low-income. With 129,000 total affordable and available units to that demographic, there were just 25 units for every 100 extremely low-income households in the Chicago metropolitan area.
“We know that incomes have been dropping but rental markets have continued to go up because so many people have moved from home ownership to renting following the housing crisis of 2008,” said Megan Bolton, research director for the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). “There’s this tightening of the rental market which drives cost up, so for the lowest income renters it’s becoming increasingly difficult to afford rent.”
According to Bolton, states with big metro areas with tight rental markets tend to have less affordable housing than others.
“One of the greatest risks for homelessness is when you’re spending a huge portion of your income on housing, and that’s what so many of these families who are in unaffordable housing are doing,” she said.
The report suggests that one solution to the affordable housing crisis for extremely low-income renters is federal investment in the National Housing Trust Fund.
Created by Congress as a provision of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, but never funded as a result of the recession, the National Housing Trust Fund would provide subsidies and incentives to preserve, rehabilitate and build housing for extremely low-income renters.
The report calls for funding from the National Housing Trust Fund through modifications to the mortgage interest deduction.
“Converting the current tax deduction to a 15 percent non-refundable tax credit and reducing the size of a mortgage eligible for a tax break from $1 million to $500,000 would save the federal government almost $200 billion over 10 years,” the report reads.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D, MN-5) introduced a version of the NLIHC’s proposal to modify the mortgage interest deduction last year. Called the “Common Sense Housing Investment Act of 2012”, HR 6677, it was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means in December, where it died.
The bill would have converted the mortgage interest deduction to a 20 percent tax credit, capped the maximum mortgage to receive a tax break at $500,000 and directed the savings to the National Housing Trust Fund.
Bob Palmer, of Housing Action Illinois, said Ellison plans on reintroducing the bill this year.
“We are in a climate where policymakers don’t want to spend money on new programs,” said Bolton. “We really feel like this proposal is the way to go because this would be a dedicated revenue source. We need to build units and preserve units that are affordable to the lowest income Americans.”