WASHINGTON D.C. (March 15, 2021) – Covid-19 has exacerbated a crisis of middle-income households being able to find attainable homes with frontline workers faring particularly badly, according to a comprehensive data-informed study from the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) Terwilliger Center for Housing. It identifies gaps in home attainability across the U.S., and highlights occupations that have been significantly affected by the global pandemic and the resulting economic disruption. ULI is a global, member-driven organization comprising more than 45,000 real estate and urban development professionals dedicated to advancing the Institute’s mission of shaping the future of the built environment for transformative impact in communities worldwide.
The ULI Terwilliger Center’s 2021 Home Attainability Index provides a high-level snapshot of the extent to which a housing market provides a range of housing choices attainable to the regional workforce, with an intentional focus on issues related to racial, socioeconomic, and intraregional disparities and inequities. The Index is designed to support local municipalities and members of the development community who are working to address longstanding challenges related to home affordability – it includes an interactive spreadsheet enabling users to filter and segment data via various metrics. Over time, the Index will enable national and regional comparisons to inform decisions about housing production, policy, and financing.
Since the release of a pilot edition of the Index in 2020, the center has worked with a national cross-sector group of partners, including the National Housing Conference (NHC) and National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), to expand and improve the resource. It now has an array of 30 housing and equity related metrics across five categories, including: overall affordability; homeownership attainability; rental attainability; neighborhood opportunity and access; and housing production. It includes data on the 100 most populous metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the U.S., as well as an additional 12 MSAs served by ULI District Councils.
As part of the suite of Index-related resources the ULI Terwilliger Center released a national summary report, which found that:
- The most severe cost burdens among middle-income households are predominantly found in the most populous regions.
- However, there is a nationwide lack of attainable homes for critical members of the workforce that is not limited to the United States’ most vibrant metropolitan
- In particular, there is a national struggle for lower-income households to find attainable rental units; and
- Segregation – both by income and race – cuts across market types and geographies, and high housing costs threaten to worsen racial and socioeconomic disparities.
The 2021 Home Attainability Index includes an Occupational Analysis, which compares the amount needed to afford various housing types with the median amounts earned by various occupations in each region. In light of the Covid-19 crisis, 12 impacted occupations were selected to demonstrate whether there is a surplus (a household earns more than necessary to afford the given housing type without being cost burdened) or a gap.
The occupations fell into three broad categories that could face heightened risks: Healthcare workers, frontline workers, and workers with elevated risk of income disruption. Significantly, a median-wage worker in only three occupations that were examined – geriatric nurse, cardiac technician, and long-haul delivery truck driver – could afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment in more than half of the regions in the dataset.
“Patterns of housing insecurity and racial and socioeconomic inequality that existed prior to Covid-19 have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the associated economic downturn,” said Michael A. Spotts, author of the report and a visiting research fellow with the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing. “We are staring in the face of a situation in which many of the people who were critical in getting the population at large through this crisis face years of economic uncertainty and hardship as the country recovers. The Home Attainability Index will help to shine a light on where the main issues are, enabling us to find potential solutions to creating a more equitable society.”
Also included within the Index-related resources is a Housing, Health, and Covid-19 Crisis policy brief, which highlights several policy activities that can support frontline and economically disrupted workers, including:
- Maintaining eviction protections for the duration of the crisis;
- Providing ongoing rental assistance to support very-low-income households;
- Developing policies and funding streams that address the burden of deferred rent and mortgage payments; and
- Providing capital to maintain and preserve the viability of the housing stock that serves lower-income households.
Key Regional Comparisons
Though the Index does not assign a single “score” for each region, Ogden-Clearfield, Utah, was the region that performed better than the data set median for the most Index metrics with regards to home attainability. Of the 50 most populous regions, only San Antonio and Pittsburgh performed better than the median across a minimum of two-thirds of Index metrics.
The Home Attainability Index Summary Report examines the relationship between attainability and equity, which is important as the benefits of living in a region with better housing attainability may be blunted if deep concentrations of poverty or other inequities are prevalent.
Among regions that are relatively affordable, there were nine regions in which strong affordability may be offset by lagging performance on equity-related measures: Toledo, Cleveland, Birmingham, Charlotte, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Scranton, Louisville, and Winston-Salem. Conversely, nine metro areas—San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside, Denver, Portland, Stockton, Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, and Seattle—struggle with affordability but perform comparatively well on most equity measures.
The Home Attainability Index Summary Report also highlights that geographic variability cannot be separated from racial and ethnic disparities caused by more than a century of segregation, redlining, exclusionary zoning, and discriminatory practices in the real estate and finance industries. Only three regions in the 2021 Index data set—Colorado Springs, Honolulu, and Las Vegas—met the standard for “low” levels of racial segregation (though this metric does not control for the overall diversity of the region).
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, California, was the only region to perform better than the median across all Index metrics directly focused on equity, but it still did not meet the threshold for “low racial segregation” according to the Index.
Support for the 2021 Home Attainability Index was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Index will be discussed as part of the 2021 ULI Virtual Housing Opportunity Conference, March 16-17, which is one of the nation’s premier meetings of the residential development, lending, investing, and policy community. It brings together a diverse mix of private and nonprofit real estate developers, public officials, urban and regional planners, housing advocates, architects, investors, and lenders.
To download the 2021 Housing Attainability Index, visit americas.uli.org/2021-home-
About the Urban Land Institute
- The Urban Land Institute is a non-profit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to shape the future of the built environment for transformative impact in communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the institute has more than 45,000 members worldwide representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.
About the ULI Terwilliger Center for Housing
- The Terwilliger Center for Housing seeks to advance best practices in residential development and public policy, and to support ULI members and local communities in creating and sustaining a full spectrum of housing opportunities, particularly for lower- and moderate-income households.
- Established in 2007 with a gift from longtime member and former ULI chairman J. Ronald Terwilliger, the Center integrates ULI’s wide-ranging housing activities into a program of work with three objectives: to catalyze the production of housing, provide thought leadership on the housing industry, and inspire a broader commitment to housing. For more information, please visit our site.