John Gilderbloom discusses the economic, social, and political dimensions of the housing crisis in Invisible City: Poverty, Housing, and New Urbanism. Gilderbloom explains that, according to the Millennial Housing Commission, affordability is the single greatest housing challenge facing the United States. Federal programs such as the MHC define housing affordability in terms of the ratio of income to housing costs. The individuals who spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing are considered to have a “severe” housing problem. Over 28 million individuals who either rented or owned homes in 2000 fell into this category. Gilderbloom believes that there are many reasons households with this problem struggle to pay housing costs. The main reason, he explains, is that the income of these individuals is insufficient to cover even the most meager rents or payments. In addition, these households have problems maintaining enough income to afford housing costs due to “age, disability, or the lack of steady full-time work” (Gilderbloom 16). Having a full-time job, however, does not exempt households from facing housing issues; over a quarter of the 11 million individuals facing severe housing affordability problems in 2000 had full-time employment incomes based on minimum wage (Gilderbloom 16).
Although the quality of American housing surpasses the quality of housing in most parts of the world, available low-income housing in the United States is mainly located in poor areas that are isolated from opportunity and jobs. Gilderbloom explains that, even though there has been a sharp reduction in “the number of units that are overcrowded, lack plumbing and sanitation, or show signs of structural dilapidation” in the last two decades, low-income families in the United States are still faced with overcrowding in homes and higher transportation expenses (Gilderbloom 17). The U.S. Census Bureau defines overcrowding as “any housing unit that has more than one person per room” (Gilderbloom 26). Unfortunately, the rate of overcrowding increased by 5.7 percent between 1990 and 2000, an estimated increase of 6 million housing units. Gilderbloom explains that the rise of housing and rent costs in the past decade has also had a detrimental impact on family formation. The Federal Reserve Board found that the price of housing for married couples with children rose 79 percent between 1983 and 1998, nearly three times as much as it did for couples without children (Gilderbloom 29). Many young couples are presently choosing to either limit the size of their families or to not have children at all. James Surowiecki, a journalist for the New Yorker, argues that the cost of having children has risen much faster than the cost of being childless; the increasing burden of offspring is “attributable to housing and education costs (Gilderbloom 29).