Housing

Homelessness reached a record in 2023, and it could get worse

Incomes have failed to keep up with the rising cost of rent for many, prompting more people to become homeless.

A tarp covers a portion of a homeless person's tent on a bridge overlooking the 101 Freeway in Los Angeles
A homeless person's tent on a bridge overlooking the 101 Freeway in Los Angeles.
Jae C. Hong/AP
SMS

More Americans than ever before were homeless in 2023 as pandemic-era assistance ended and rental prices surged. 

According to a new report prepared by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, 653,100 Americans were homeless at the start of 2023, setting a record. 

Of those, 256,610 were unsheltered, living in the elements or unapproved living conditions, such as vehicles or abandoned buildings. 

One big reason is there are fewer places to live that are considered affordable. According to the report, more than 500,000 low-rent units were lost from 2019 to 2022. 

The number of people cost-burdened by rent — those spending over 30% of their income on housing and utilities — has subsequently increased to over 50%.

One concern is that demand is rising for rental units while the number of new multifamily units under construction is declining. That, coupled with a gap in assistance for low-income families, could keep housing unaffordable for many. 

"During the pandemic, the increased resources for renters, housing providers, and state and local governments demonstrated that financial assistance and supports keep tenants stably housed and landlords solvent," the report notes. "But as these resources have expired or been spent down, the housing safety net is once again overwhelmed and underfunded, as has been the case for many decades. While states and localities have acted to fill some of the gaps, a larger commitment from the federal government is required to expand housing supports and preserve and improve the existing affordable stock. Only then will the nation finally make a meaningful dent in the housing affordability crisis making life so difficult for millions of people."

More single women in US own homes compared to single men
More single women in US own homes compared to single men

More single women in US own homes compared to single men

The statistics are especially interesting when you consider that women have historically faced more home-buying hurdles than men.

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Some of the rise in demand is driven by more higher-income Americans renting. The report noted a 43% increase in renter households earning more than $75,000 a year. With that, there are nearly three times the number of units with a monthly rent over $2,000 a month than compared to 2010. 

When adjusted for inflation, there were nearly 9 million units in the U.S. that were under $600 a month, while at the time, there were 3 million units going for over $2,000. As of 2022, there are nearly 2 million units under $600 a month, while there are 9 million going for over $2,000. 

According to the consumer price index, there has been about a 64% increase in urban rent costs from 2010 through the end of 2023. Meanwhile, there has only been about a 50% increase in median weekly wages during that same time, according to government data.