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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2017

Housing Problems

Housing that is inadequate, crowded, or too costly can pose serious problems to children's physical, psychological, and material well-being.81, 82 Housing cost burdens, especially at high levels, are a risk factor for negative outcomes for children, including eviction and homelessness, overcrowding, poor nutrition, frequent moving, lack of supervision while parents are at work, and low cognitive achievement.83, 84, 85 During 2015, an estimated 128,000 children (2 per 1,000 children) were homeless at a single point in time, and 7.7 percent of these homeless children were unsheltered.86 The percentage of households with children that report that they are living in physically inadequate,87 crowded, or costly housing provides insight into the impact of economic factors on housing choices and children's well-being.

Indicator PHY5.A: Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that reported housing problems by type of problem, selected years 1978–2015
Indicator PHY5.A: Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that reported housing problems by type of problem, selected years 1978–2015

NOTE: Data are available for 1978, 1983, 1989, and biennially since 1993. All data are weighted using the decennial Census that preceded the date of their collection.

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development, American Housing Survey. Tabulated by Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Indicator PHY5.B: Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that reported severe housing cost burdens, selected years 1978–2015
Indicator PHY5.B: Percentage of households with children ages 0–17 that reported severe housing cost burdens, selected years 1978–2015

SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development, American Housing Survey. Tabulated by Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • In 2015, 39 percent of U.S. households with children had one or more of three housing problems: physically inadequate housing, crowded housing, or housing cost burden greater than 30 percent of household income.88 This was a decrease89 from 40 percent in 2013.
  • In 2015, about 6 percent of households with children had physically inadequate housing, defined as housing with severe or moderate physical problems. This rate remained near a historic low, compared with 9 percent in 1978.
  • The prevalence of housing cost burdens among families with children decreased from 35 percent in 2013 to 32 percent in 2015. However, the prevalence remained substantially higher than it was in 1978 (15 percent).
  • The proportion of families with children having severe housing cost burdens, defined as paying more than half of their income for housing, was 15 percent in 2015, not significantly different than the 2013 rate, but a substantial increase from 11 percent in 2003.
  • Among very-low-income renter households90 with children, a substantially greater proportion experience severe cost burdens, 51 percent in 2015, which was an increase from 48 percent in 2013.

table icon PHY5 HTML Table

81 Breysse, P., Farr, N., Galke, W., Lanphear, B., Morley, R., & Bergofsky, L. (2004). The relationship between housing and health: Children at risk. Environmental Health Perspectives, 112 (15), 1583–1588.

82 Krieger, J., & Higgins, D. L. (2002). Housing and health: Time again for public health action. American Journal of Public Health, 92 (5), 758–68.

83 Bridge, C., Flatau, P., Whelan, S., Wood, G., & Yates, J. (2003). Housing assistance and non-shelter outcomes. Sydney, AU: Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute.

84 Cutts, D., Meyers, A. F., Black, M. M., Casey, P. H., Chilton, M. Cook, J. T., Geppert, J., Ettinger de Cuba, S., Heeren, T., Coleman, S., Rose-Jacobs, R., & Frank, D.A. (2011). U.S. housing insecurity and the health of very young children. American Journal of Public Health, 101 (8), 1508–1514.

85 Newman, S., & Holupka, S. (2014). Housing affordability and child well-being. Housing Policy Debate, 24. doi: 10.1080/10511482.2014.899261.

86 The estimate is based on a count of children who, during a single night in January, either were using an emergency shelter or transitional housing services, or were on the street or other place not intended for human habitation. See Exhibit 1.3, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Community Planning and Development. (2015). The 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, part 1: Point-in-time estimates of homelessness. Washington, DC: Author.

87 Physically inadequate units are defined as those with moderate or severe physical problems. Common types of problems include lack of complete plumbing for exclusive use, unvented room heaters as the primary heating equipment, and multiple upkeep problems such as water leakage, open cracks or holes, broken plaster, or signs of rats. See definition in Appendix A of the American Housing Survey summary volume, American Housing Survey for the United States: 2007. (2008). Current Housing Reports, Series H150, U.S. Census Bureau.

88 Paying 30 percent or more of income for housing may leave insufficient resources for other basic needs. See Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance, National Research Council. (1995). Measuring poverty: A new approach. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/1995/demo/citro-01.html

89 For the housing problems indicator, the statistical significance of differences from year to year is determined at the 0.05 level of probability using standard methods. However, these methods only approximate whether changes are significant because they do not fully account for the panel design of the American Housing Survey, in which selected housing units are revisited in subsequent years and therefore produce nonindependent samples.

90 The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines "very-low-income renters" as renter households with incomes at or below half the median family income, adjusted for family size, within their geographic area.