Falling Home Prices Aren't Helping Housing Costs

A new study shows that housing costs are still steep for many middle-class Americans.

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Although it seems phrases such as "affordable housing" or "historically low prices" are repeated ad nauseum when it comes to the housing market, freefalling home prices haven't done much to help many low- and moderate-income Americans cope with rising housing costs.

Nearly one in four working households spent more than half of its income on housing costs in 2010, according to a recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Housing Policy. That's up slightly from about 22 percent in 2008.

"Despite the fact that we're seeing declining home prices across the country, housing isn't becoming more affordable," Laura Williams, the study's author, told the Wall Street Journal, noting that in 19 of the 50 largest metropolitan areas, working households with "severe housing burdens" increased between 2008 and 2010.

Here's a look at metropolitan areas with the highest housing cost burdens:

Metro Area

Working Households With Severe Housing Cost Burden
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Fla.
43 percent
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif.
38 percent
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, Calif.
37 percent
Riverside-San Bernadino-Ontario, Calif.
34 percent
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA
34 percent
Source: Center for Housing Policy

The changing dynamics of the housing market have been particularly hard on renters, who've seen rents tick up with heightened demand for rental property, even as their incomes have dropped. The median household income for renters sank 4 percent between 2008 and 2010, while median rents saw a 4 percent increase, "exacerbating renters' affordability challenges," the report said.

Meanwhile, working homeowners saw housing costs fall slightly—about 2 percent—but lost more ground on their incomes—about 5 percent.

The bottom line? Despite a lagging real estate market, housing affordability is getting worse—not better—for a broad swath of workers, particularly low- and middle-income Americans.

Want to know where your city and state ranks when it comes to housing affordability? Read the full report here.

mhandley@usnews.com

Twitter: @mmhandley

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