More than half of Maine's poorest renters are unable to find housing they can afford

Mar. 16—More than half of Maine's lowest-income renters spend 50% or more of their money on housing, according to a national report released Thursday.

Maine isn't an outlier in the findings. The lack of available, affordable housing for extremely-low income renters is a crisis in all 50 states, and the report found no state has an adequate supply of housing for the people who can least afford it.

The report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition measures the availability of rental housing that's affordable to "extremely low-income households," defined as those at or below the federal poverty guideline or 30% of the area median income.

The results are bleak.

In Maine, there are 49 affordable, available homes for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. The state is short an estimated 22,500 affordable rental units, according to the report.

About 30% of Maine renters — or over 444,250 people — fall into this "extremely low-income" category, and the majority are either seniors or disabled.

Of the extremely low-income renters in Maine, 72% are considered "cost-burdened," meaning they spend at least 30% of their income on housing, and 52% are "severely cost-burdened" meaning housing takes at least 50% of their income.

Nationally, about 72% of extremely low-income residents are considered severely cost-burdened; Maine's 52% is the lowest share in the country. Rhode Island has the second lowest percentage with 58% and Nevada has the highest with 86%.

Maine also fares better than most states in the ratio of affordable homes to renters.

Nationally, there are only 33 affordable and available rentals for every 100 extremely low-income renters. In Nevada, there are 17 for every 100 and in South Dakota, there are 58 for every 100.

But the supply of affordable homes is only dwindling as prices increase. Between January 2021 and December 2022, rental prices increased 22% nationally. These rent increases occurred across the country and were not confined to certain markets.

The U.S. is short an estimated 7.3 million affordable housing units, the housing coalition found in its annual study.

This shortage was exacerbated by the pandemic. Between 2019 and 2021, the shortage of affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income renters worsened by more than 500,000 units, or 8%, the report said.

The report also found that Black, Latino and Indigenous households disproportionately fall into the extremely-low income bracket and are disproportionately affected by the housing shortage.

"The past three years — characterized by a global pandemic, widespread job losses, record-breaking inflation, unusually low vacancy rates, and skyrocketing rental prices — have underlined and exacerbated the financial precarity experienced by the nation's lowest-income renters," the coalition said in the report. "These findings underline the importance of large scale, long-term policy solutions to meet the housing needs of renters with the lowest incomes."