Poverty and Housing

Let’s take a look at poverty and its effect on housing. But before we go any further, it is necessary to understand that there are two types of poverty:

  • Extreme (absolute) poverty
  • Relative poverty

Extreme poverty is the complete lack of the means necessary to meet basic personal needs, such as food, clothing, and housing.

Relative poverty is having a low income relative to others in their city, county, state, province region or country.

The United Nations Development Program’s definition of poverty recognizes that poverty cannot be measured by income alone. Instead, it takes a multi-dimensional approach, accounting for health, education and standard of living, including access to clean water, sanitation, electricity and quality of housing because of the foundational role each plays in allowing families to lead a decent life.

People living in poverty are not necessarily who you think

A family can fall into poverty for many reasons — medical emergencies, crop failures, sudden unemployment. In the United States, two out of five households don’t have enough savings to get through a financial emergency.

Affordable housing can be hard to find

In many regions of the world, the number of low-income households far exceeds the affordable housing units available. In the United States, for every 100 renter households classified as extremely low-income, just 35 rental units are both available and affordable.

A full-time job is not be enough for many families to afford a decent place to live

Nowhere in the United States can a worker earning the federal or prevailing state minimum wage rent a two-bedroom apartment without having to pay more than 30% of their income.

In fact, a minimum wage worker must clock nearly 127 hours per week, more than three full-time jobs, to afford a two-bedroom rental, or 103 hours per week, more than 2.5 full-time jobs, to afford a one-bedroom, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Having a house or apartment doesn’t mean you aren’t living in poverty

According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, nearly 38 million American households — 31.5% of all households — are paying more than 30% of their incomes on housing, forcing them to maintain a nearly impossible balance by making difficult and life-altering decisions about food, transportation and health. Meanwhile, one in six households are paying more than half of their income on housing.

Insecure tenure, or the threat of eviction, is a reality for many depriving people of even the most basic physical, economic and psychological security of adequate shelter. More than 20% of the world’s population struggles, on a daily basis, to stay in houses or on land where they live.

Poverty perpetuates, but so does homeownership

A safe, decent, affordable place to live can make a tangible difference in the life of a family. Homeownership has long been the primary way for families to build wealth

Homeownership also offers stability because monthly mortgage payments are predictable whereas rents can increase year after year. 

A stable home is important for academic achievement. Children who change schools as their families move in search of more affordable housing can struggle to keep up academically.

Quality housing means better health

The quality of housing has major implications on people’s health. A home with mold, rodents and pests can trigger or cause chronic respiratory conditions, including asthma. 

Overcrowded, sub-standard housing poses a risk to the health and physical well-being of families and their neighbors and facilitates the spread of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, dengue fever, pneumonia, cholera and malaria, according to the World Health Organization. 

This is especially true when confronted with outbreaks of new contagious viruses and germs – like COVID-19 – that require people to shelter at home for long periods of time. 

It’s clear that the poor and those living in poverty struggle with suitable housing. Let’s support government and non-government programs that address the housing challenges of those with a low income.

We are judged by how we treat the helpless and the poor.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 International License.

Published by W. M. Brown

I am a retired U.S. expat living in Ecuador. I was a business owner for 32 years before retiring in 2012.

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