The Growing Shortage of Affordable Housing for the Extremely Low Income in Massachusetts The Growing Shortage of Affordable Housing for the Extremely Low Income in Massachusetts

By Nicholas Chiumenti

Listen to the Connecticut Economic Resource Center’s CERConomy podcast interview with the New England Public Policy Center Director Jeffrey Thompson, where he discusses the findings of this report.

High housing costs in Massachusetts place significant financial pressure on the state’s residents, and a lack of affordable housing can decrease the region’s competitiveness. Affordability is of special concern for the state’s extremely low-income (ELI) renter households; in 2016 79 percent were rent burdened. Due to high housing costs, ELI households often have to forgo spending on health care, food, childcare, or other necessities. A single financial shock can cause this group to fall behind on rent, leading to eviction or even homelessness.

This report examines existing shortages of affordable and available (AA) rental housing for ELI households at both the state and local levels. It finds that in 2016, there was less than one AA unit for every two ELI renter households in Massachusetts. Cities and towns vary widely in their supply of AA units, with much of the state’s subsidized housing concentrated in major cities and other heavily populated areas. Communities with lower rents were associated with higher rates of rent burden in 2016, which suggests that in some cases, low incomes share the blame for the high rate of rent burden that ELI households experience.

This report also finds that much of the state’s inventory of affordable housing is at risk of becoming unaffordable to ELI households when subsidies end and the owners of these expiring use units are allowed to raise rents. By 2025, 9,110 subsidized units that were occupied by ELI households in 2016 will have all of their attached subsidies expire. Twenty-five cities and towns are at risk of having all of their subsidized housing expire by this time. This report estimates that by 2035, between $843 million and $1.03 billion will be needed annually to preserve expiring use units and increase the subsidized housing inventory sufficiently.

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