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The goal of Cityscape is to bring high-quality original research on housing and community development issues to scholars, government officials, and practitioners. Cityscape is open to all relevant disciplines, including architecture, consumer research, demography, economics, engineering, ethnography, finance, geography, law, planning, political science, public policy, regional science, sociology, statistics, and urban studies.

Cityscape is published three times a year by the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • Rental Housing Policy in the United States
  • Volume 13 Number 2
  • Managing Editor: Mark D. Shroder
  • Associate Editor: Michelle P. Matuga

Rental Housing Affordability Dynamics, 1990–2009

Rob Collinson, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

As with the articles in this issue, this introduction reflects the views of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


Housing is the single largest expense for most American families. For one-third of American households, this expense is not a monthly mortgage payment to a lender, but rather a monthly rent payment to a landlord. Rental housing is the typical tenure choice for the young, the elderly, the disabled, people in highly mobile professional sectors, and low-wage working families, it is also likely to be an important alternative—at least in the short term—for many of the millions of families uprooted by the foreclosure crisis. In light of the potential increased role of rental housing as a tenure option, this article attempts to (1) describe key facts and trends in the affordability of rental housing for low- and moderate-income renters from 1990 through the recession of the late 2000s and (2) examine early evidence on the effects of the recession and foreclosure crisis on rental housing affordability. Although Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Policy Development and Research (HUD PD&R) have made important empirical contributions to the understanding of rental housing affordability trends during the past two decades, few studies have analyzed both national level and metropolitan level rental housing affordability dynamics.1 This article is intended to provide a data-rich update on rental housing market dynamics at both the national and metropolitan levels, drawing on a variety of data sources to provide a more nuanced picture of housing trends and needs. The content is organized as follows: the first section, Renter Income Trends, analyzes trends in renter incomes at the national and metropolitan levels since 1990; the second section, Rent Trends, describes rent trends from 1990 through 2009; and the third section, Affordable Rental Housing Stock Trends, examines trends in rental housing affordability, as measured by rent burdens and affordable supply gap.

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