Two-thirds of low-income Northern Virginians are "severely burdened" by the cost of housing, the highest such rate among all large metropolitan areas in the country, according to a new report by the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia.
The report found that such families, with incomes of less than $50,000 per year for a family of four, spend over half of their income on rent, mortgage, taxes, fees, and basic utilities. Individuals and families with moderate incomes ($50,000 to $100,000 for a family of four) fare slightly better, but still over half (59%) cannot afford their homes and 19% spend over half of their income on housing. That is the sixth highest rate of housing burden for moderate-income households in the country.
“These findings will not come as a surprise to the individuals and families who cannot afford to live here without ‘cutting corners’ or to the policy experts and advocates who have fought for affordable housing and for living-wage jobs for decades,” said Elizabeth Hughes, senior director of the Community Foundation’s new research center, Insight Region, and the report’s author.
“But we hope it surprises the majority of residents who do not struggle regularly with housing costs, who may know that housing prices and rents are high but not the extent to which they burden so many of our low- and moderate-income neighbors. This is a problem that requires a community response, and the first step is to build community knowledge.”
The report is an analysis of data from the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey. The full report is available online here. Other key findings include:
- Severe housing burden is not spread evenly throughout the region: In Leesburg-Western Loudoun County, 58% of low-income households spent over half of their income on housing, the lowest rate of severe housing burden observed throughout the region (2015-19, five-year average). The highest rates in excess of 75% were observed in North Arlington, Lorton-SE Centreville, and McLean-Idylwood.
- Racial and ethnic minorities and immigrant communities experience severe housing burden at higher rates nationally and in Northern Virginia. Over half (57%) of severely housing burdened households were non-white, and 47% were born in a different country.
- Occupations that experienced severe housing burden at the highest rates are predominantly in roles deemed “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic, including teachers, construction workers, retail salespersons, drivers, and restaurant staff.
- Seniors account for 23 percent of severely housing burdened households in Northern Virginia.
"When a household spends half of its income on housing, it becomes difficult to cover other monthly expenses, let alone save for a crisis," the report states. "When this population has to cut corners to pay for housing costs—eating poorly, skipping routine medical care, or delaying home maintenance—they put themselves at increased risk for substantial and lasting health problems."