By Deborah Kennedy
President, National Coalition for Literacy
The Census population count has a major effect on the availability and quality of affordable housing in your community, whether you live in a city or in a rural area. Affordable housing in turn can have major effects on health, education, economic mobility, and equity for all.
How does the federal government support affordable housing?
Through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. government provides housing support for low income people all over the country. You may be familiar with some of these programs. They include rental housing programs such as Housing Choice (also known as Section 8); supportive housing programs for veterans, the elderly, and persons with disabilities; rural rental housing programs; and many others.
In a report called A Place to Call Home, the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding says this about federal housing programs:
While decent, accessible housing remains unavailable or unaffordable for far too many today, the affordable housing crisis would be significantly worse without the federal investments provided by the HUD and USDA’s Rural Housing Service (RHS). In the past 20 years alone, HUD has provided housing assistance to more than 35 million households. Without the opportunity that HUD provided, many of these families would be homeless, living in substandard or overcrowded conditions, or unable to afford other basic necessities because so much of their income is spent on rent.
This graphic shows the amounts and types of federal rental assistance.
Why is housing assistance important?
When individuals and families have housing assistance, they are able to spend more of their income on food and health care. For example, the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign’s Health & Housing Infographic notes that “in 2011, families living in affordable housing spent nearly five times more on health care and one third more on food compared to their severely cost-burdened peers.” The result is better overall health for both children and adults.
Housing assistance also increases housing stability, meaning that individuals and families are able to remain in place rather than moving frequently because they are unable to pay the rent or have no place of their own. Having stable housing means that children are able to attend school consistently, adults have predictable ways to travel to and from work, and families can make connections and become part of a larger community. In Policy Basics: Public Housing, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities summarizes this way:
By limiting housing costs, public housing leaves families with more resources for work expenses like child care and transportation (as well as basic needs like food and medicine). For frail seniors and people with disabilities, public housing enables them to remain in their home communities and avoid or delay moving into nursing homes or other institutions that are much more costly for state and federal governments.
What does this have to do with the Census?
The U.S. government uses a formula to decide how much money for housing assistance will go to each state. The formula uses information about the size of a state’s population and the number of people living in different types of housing – and that information comes from the decennial Census. (Other information for the formula comes from the American Community Survey and the American Housing Survey, which are also administered by the Census Bureau.)
If people do not complete the Census form or do not list all of the people living in a residence,
- The overall Census count for their community is lower than it should be
- The count of how many people are living in each type of housing is not accurate
As a result, their state may not receive its fair share of federal funding to address the housing needs of its people.