Chapter 4: Quality, Affordable Housing

When we think about housing and poverty, we often think about urban homelessness and forget about the instability that comes with housing insecurity. The reality is many people experiencing poverty may have a roof over their head, but might struggle with affording soaring housing costs on low wages in urban and rural areas alike.

Homeownership – a key way to build wealth and achieve financial security in our country – is disproportionately skewed in favor of white households owning their homes (73%) compared to Latinx households (47%) and Black households (45%).1 Owning a home allows a family to build assets, and it increases children’s chances of finishing school and future success. Children of homeowners are twice as likely to graduate from college and 59% more likely to become homeowners.2

Currently, renters are spending too high a percentage of their monthly income on housing. Any household that pays more than 30% is “rent burdened.”3 Rent burdened families are forced to make sacrifices on other expenses such as healthcare, food, and transportation. They are also more likely to face eviction, which leads to major population displacement, particularly for low-income women of color.4 Across the country, developers are prioritizing new housing units for high income renters, causing a decline in our nation’s supply of affordable housing.

Extremely high costs affect low-income renters in large cities, mid-sized cities, and rural areas alike.5 Since the 1990s, migration from rural to urban areas has declined by 50%, tying residents of rural areas to the economic reality of their area with less control over their financial future.6 For example, one of the poorest counties in the United States, McDowell County, WV, has experienced major declines in industry, particularly coal. This decline contributed to abandoned businesses, decreasing wages, lack of jobs, and little opportunity for economic growth, which led to the deterioration of housing stock and infrastructure in the county. In McDowell County, 40% of the population lives in poverty compared to 12% nationally.7 Bolstering economic vitality and reinvesting in the workforce in certain regions are key steps to help eliminate disparities in access to housing and opportunity across the United States.

Historically, racist local and federal policies – such as the National Housing Act of 1934 – have stripped wealth from people of color and exacerbated the racial wealth gap. Practices such as redlining, land contracts, and subprime loans contribute to higher monthly payments, loan defaults, increased foreclosures, and more evictions for families of color.8 This systematic housing discrimination has long-term effects for people and communities of color.

There are many factors to determine where someone might live: school district, commute time, proximity to public transportation, safety, and more. However, many families do not have the liberty to choose where they live, and many do not have homes at all. No one, regardless of location, should have to face uncertainty about where they will sleep. Individuals across all areas – whether urban or rural – have a right to live in safe and affordable communities so they are able to thrive and to focus on family life.

Reflecting on Housing

LaJuan Brooks is the Administrative Assistant and Patty Mullahy Fugere is the Executive Director at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

A Personal Story about Housing

Julie Eide shares her experience struggling to secure housing for her family in Janesville, WI.

Facts and Figures
  • 553,742 people experiencing homelessness were counted on a single night in 2017.9
  • From 2010 to 2016, the amount of apartments classified as “affordable” dropped by over 60%. 10
  • 33% of rural working poor people had family incomes below 50% of the poverty line (around $12,000 for a family of four) in 2015.11
  • A median renter in the bottom 20% income quintile pays more than 50% of income on rent, and is left with less than $500 for other necessities.5
  • 23% of black renting families and 25% of Hispanic renting families spent at least half of their income on housing in 2013.4
Words of Wisdom
The family has the right to decent housing, fitting for family life and commensurate to the number of the members, in a physical environment that provides the basic services for the life of the family and the community.

-Pope Francis

Our nation can and should eliminate homelessness, and should ensure that no one is forced to decide between paying for housing or other vital expenses because of unaffordable housing costs.

-Sister Marge Clark, BVM

We Pray

Mothering God,

You have made a home for all your creatures,
a world exploding with abundant and nourishing love.

And yet,
our history is a story of the powerful taking
and maintaining control over
the homes, and the very lives, of others,
beginning with indigenous peoples
still deprived of their own land and sovereignty
and of the dignity of their histories.

We think, too, of those who have been made poor—
in substandard houses, apartments, and trailers
made unsafe by inadequate heating,
leaking roofs,
and toxic environments.

We think of those who are transient,
or at risk of becoming so,
dependent upon motels,
social services,
and houses of hospitality.

We think of those for whom finding a home
is a continual struggle against so many systemic obstacles—
vulnerable women,
people of color,
LGBTQ people,
those suffering from addiction.

We think of those whose homes and neighborhoods
are marginalized in urban and rural places,
hidden from the eyes of those who have plenty
until a sense of “opportunity” leads to
absentee ownership,
and development that dehumanizes and displaces.

We think, too, of Mother Earth
being made uninhabitable
by the engines of an economy that kills.

Empower us to be perfect in our homemaking
as you are in your divine homemaking.

Let us bring each other home.
Let us give back that which is not ours to have.
Let us meet one another’s needs
and be satisfied with “enough.”
Let us create communities of inclusion and care
which honor the least among us. Let us make each place where we find ourselves
into a home that you yourself would be honored to inhabit.


—Written by the Catholic Committee of Appalachia

Reflection Questions
  • How could we expand our definition of housing?  What else should be included for housing to be a nurturing environment where people can grow?
  • How does access to safe, reliable housing intersect with other systemic obstacles faced by marginalized individuals and families?
Additional Resources

Learn more about housing in the 21st Century:

Continue reading Chapter 5: Healthcare and Wellbeing
Return to 21st Century Poverty Homepage


1. Traub, Amy and Ruetschlin, Catherine. The Racial Wealth Gap: Why Policy Matters. Demos, June 2016.

2. Habitat for Humanity. 7 Things You Should Know about Poverty and Housing.

3. Gabriel, Stuart A. and Painter, Gary Dean. Why Affordability Matters. UCLA, August 2017,

4. Desmond, Matthew. Unaffordable America: Poverty, Housing, and Eviction. Institute for Research on Poverty, March 2015,

5. Schuetz, Jenny. Is the Rent “Too Damn High”? Or Are Incomes Too Low?. Brookings, December 2017,

6. Lettieri, John. “Urban and Rural Poverty in America.” September 2017, Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC. Panel Discussion.

7.Gurley, Lauren. Why the Rural Poor Should Always Merit Attention in America. Equal Voice, January 2017,

8. NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. The Racial Wealth and Income Gap. December 2017,

9. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. December 2017,

10. Jan, Tracy. America’s Affordable-Housing Stock Dropped by 60 Percent from 2010 to 2016. Washington Post, October 23, 2017,

11. Beda, Steven, et al. 6 Charts that Illustrate the Divide Between Rural and Urban America. PBS, March 2017,