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Volume 6 Number 5
May 2009

In this Issue
Local Partnerships Promote Long-Term Prosperity
Storm Windows Can Make a Difference
Land Banks Help Stabilize Properties
The Status of America's Housing
In the next issue of ResearchWorks


The Status of America's Housing

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With the recent release of the 2007 American Housing Survey (AHS), the national profile of America's housing has once more been updated and refined. This rich source of information about the characteristics of the nation's housing and its occupants is the largest regular national housing sample survey in the United States. It contains data on apartments, single-family homes, mobile homes, vacant homes, family composition, income, housing and neighborhood quality, housing costs, equipment, fuels, housing unit size, and recent movers. The data are used by professionals in nearly every field for planning, decision making, and market research, as well as in various types of federal, state, and local program development.

A chart showing the composition of the U.S. housing stock.


The U.S. Census Bureau conducts the AHS to obtain up-to-date housing statistics for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). National data are collected every other year from a fixed sample of about 50,000 homes, plus new construction each year. The survey started in 1973 and has had the same sample since 1985, allowing readers to see how homes and households change over time. In some metropolitan areas, additional samples are surveyed every 4 to 6 years to measure local conditions.

The 2007 survey estimates that America's housing stock totals 128 million housing units; 110.7 million are occupied and another 17.4 million are vacant or seasonal homes. A brief overview of what can be learned about the nation's housing from the AHS follows.

What types of homes do Americans occupy?

By global standards, homes in the United States are relatively new. The median construction date is 1970, meaning that half of the housing units were less than 37 years old in 2007. About one-third were built after 1980 and a few (7.6%) have met an impressive test of durability, dating from 1919 or before.

The predominant type of home in the United States is the single-family unit, which accounts for 75.1 percent of the nation's homes. These single-family units come detached, attached, or as manufactured (mobile) homes. Multifamily units ranging in size from 2 to 50 units (or more) account for the other 25 percent.

The floor plan of the median housing unit covers 1,807 square feet. Six out of 10 homes have from 4 to 6 rooms. Three out of five have three or more bedrooms. Virtually every unit has at least one bathroom. Most (98%) have a complete kitchen with a sink, refrigerator, and oven or burners. As for other, more common amenities, 99.5 percent of occupied units have heat and 63.5 percent are equipped with central air conditioning; 65 percent have a garage or carport; and 85 percent have a porch, deck, balcony, or patio.

American homes especially owner-occupied units have few deficiencies, such as holes in the floors, open cracks or holes, broken plaster or peeling paint, no electrical wiring, exposed wiring, or a lack of electrical outlets. One or more of these problems are present in 1 out of every 10 units. Troublesome signs of rodents exist in 6.5 percent of the homes. Nearly 62.9 percent of householders reported having no exterior structural problems. Roofing issues (sagging, missing material, holes) were reported by 6.3 percent. Other difficulties encountered by small percentages of residents included broken windows, missing bricks or other outside wall material, and crumbling foundations.

Do Americans own or rent? There are twice as many homeowners as renters, with a homeownership rate of 68.3 percent. Overall, the median housing cost burden is 23 percent, but renters pay more a median of 29.8 percent of their income compared with 20.3 percent for owners. Housing costs for renters include contract rent, property insurance, and utilities. For owners, these costs include mortgage (or installment loan) payments, property insurance, real estate taxes, fees (association, condominium, or cooperative), park fees for manufactured (mobile) homes, land rents, routine maintenance, and utilities.

In dollars, the median monthly housing cost is $847 per month. Median housing costs vary significantly among regions. The South has the lowest median monthly housing cost ($754), the Midwest has the second lowest ($767), the Northeast has the second highest ($948), and the West has the highest ($1,050). Owners have a median cost of $971, and for renters it is $750.

Where do Americans live? Three-fourths of the nation's housing units are located in central cities (28.5%) and suburbs (47%). The rest are outside of metropolitan statistical areas. Most homes are within 15 minutes of grocery and drug stores, and a little less than half are located within 29 minutes of a bus stop, train station, or subway stop. Most workers, however, travel to work by automobile, with a median travel time of 22 minutes and a median distance from home to work of 11 miles.

American Housing Survey results are available at www.huduser.org/datasets/ahs.html. An introductory booklet created by the Census Bureau provides an overview of housing data and explains where to find these data. You may download the PDF version at www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/ahsr04-1.pdf.


A picture of a group of model homes, with one home in dark shading to indicate that it is in financial crisis.
Making Home Affordable

The Departments of the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are jointly offering assistance to as many as 7 to 9 million homeowners to mitigate the destructive impact of the housing crisis on their families and communities. The Departments recently launched MakingHomeAffordable.gov — a website for consumers seeking information about the Making Home Affordable loan modification and refinancing program. Visitors to the site will find detailed information about the program and interactive self-assessment tools they can use to determine if they are eligible to participate, and to calculate the monthly mortgage payment reductions they could realize under the program. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan describes the program as "a tremendous, coordinated effort between major government and regulatory agencies to help bring relief to America's housing market and homeowners...[and] to stop the damaging impact that declining home prices have on all Americans."

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