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  • Writer's picturePCHTF

New research highlights continued need for housing progress

As we speak with the community about the need for housing options people can afford, we’re often asked, “So how much housing do we really need?”

Today the Polk County Housing Trust Fund is making available a new report that gives one answer: About 11,635 additional units of rental housing are needed that would be affordable and available for extremely low-income people living in Polk County. To be considered Extremely Low Income in our area, a person or family is trying to get by on around $25,000/year or less.

But where does that number come from? And what does it really tell us?

To arrive at that estimate, we use a methodology designed by our colleagues at the National Low Income Housing Coalition to produce their annual report called The Gap. Overall, this method uses U.S. Census data to compare the number of low-income renters to the number of housing units in our community they can afford.

Pretty quickly, this data reveals two key problems:

  • First there is an absolute shortage of rental homes that are affordable to extremely low-income renters. In Polk County, that absolute shortage is about 8,600 units.

  • Then there is a second problem: About half of the rental units that could be affordable for an extremely low-income household are instead occupied by people with higher incomes. This squeezes out the most vulnerable people and leaves them living elsewhere, often paying rents they struggle to afford.

Adding those two issues together is why we say there is a significant shortage of rental housing (11,635 units) that is both affordable and available for extremely low-income people and families. The consequences of this problem are severe.

One note: The Census data we use to complete these calculations lag somewhat behind current trends. Our current calculations are based on pre-pandemic 2019 data. We will update our report as new information becomes available.

Over two-thirds of these extremely low-income renters are paying more than half of their income in rent. That puts the health and safety of these people and families at risk and can even leave them one unexpected major expense away from serious financial peril including homelessness.

You can download our complete white paper to learn more about this local data.

Polk County Housing Affordability
Download PDF • 613KB

So what do we do about it? This data is why the Polk County Housing Trust Fund specifically tries to help fund rental units that will be affordable for extremely low-income people earning at or under 30% of what’s typical in the area. They are the people and families struggling most to find a place to live. Here’s recent media coverage about efforts to provide this income restricted housing in Greater Des Moines:

Federal housing programs are also key to assisting these most vulnerable families – especially forms of assistance like the section 8 program that ensures rent will be affordable for people and families based on the amount they earn.

Our community’s need for housing is multifaceted and people with higher incomes can also find themselves in conditions where their housing is unaffordable. In addition, the Polk County Housing Trust Fund helps with several other housing challenges, such as funding owner-occupied repair programs so that low- and moderate-income people who do have a place to live are able to safely remain stably housed.

We will keep working so people and families have the housing choices and stability they need.


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