Two-thirds of Americans say it’s difficult to find affordable housing in their area

Jamie BallardData Journalist
July 19, 2023, 8:34 PM GMT+0

A recent YouGov poll on the state of the housing market asked homeowners and renters about their personal housing costs, their goals, and the future of housing in their communities. Many Americans are paying a lot for housing, worrying about housing costs, and having trouble finding affordable housing in their areas.

Most Americans (60%) define affordable housing as housing for which a household can cover their rent or mortgage with 30% or less of their income. By that definition, renters are far more likely than homeowners with mortgages to have unaffordable housing. Among Americans who own their home and have a mortgage — which is 23% of all Americans — 25% say they pay 30% or more of their household income towards their mortgage on their primary residence. The share of Americans who rent (26%) are likely to be spending a higher portion of their income on housing. Half of renters (49%) say they spend at least 30% of their income on rent on their primary residence, with 19% who say more than half of their income goes towards rent. To some extent this is a reflection of differences in the groups' average incomes: 57% of renters had a family income over the past year under $50,000, compared to 29% of homeowners; 7% of renters' family income was at least $100,000, compared to 37% of homeowners.

Among homeowners with mortgages, 35% say they’re worried about making their mortgage payments, including 5% who say they are “very worried.” Homeowners who dedicate more than one-quarter of their household’s income to their mortgage payments are more likely to be worried about making the payments (46%).

Renters are more likely than homeowners with mortgages to be worried about making their payments, with 59% expressing worry about this. Among people whose rent cost exceeds 25% of their monthly income, 69% worry about making their rent payments.

For many, these worries are justified. Within the past year, one in five Americans has had problems paying their rent, mortgage, or other housing costs — or were unable to pay. More than one-third (36%) of renters say they’ve had problems paying for housing. Fewer homeowners with mortgages (10%) or without them (17%) say the same.

Many of the people who haven’t struggled with housing costs over the last year are likely to know someone who has. One-fifth (21%) of Americans say a family member has had problems paying or was unable to pay this, 17% say a close friend has, and 15% have an acquaintance who has (there is some overlap among these groups and some people know people in more than one of these categories who has struggled with housing costs; 51% have either had problems with housing costs, know someone who has, or both).

Given the number of Americans who struggle to meet housing costs, it’s unsurprising that 70% say it’s difficult to find affordable housing in the United States. Americans who live in rural areas are particularly likely to say it’s difficult, at 81%. Renters (81%) are 15 percentage points more likely than homeowners (66%) to say it’s difficult to find affordable housing in the U.S.

Opinions about affordability within Americans' local communities are similar. Two-thirds (64%) of Americans say it’s difficult to find affordable housing where they live; 60% of homeowners and 80% of renters feel this way. People who live in suburbs (73%) and rural areas (71%) are more likely than people in towns (66%) or cities (54%) to say this.

Why is housing so expensive? There are a number of factors, but the ones Americans are most likely to say have contributed “a great deal” to the cost of housing in the U.S. — from among a list of 16 candidates — are the cost of building materials (45%), interest rates (41%), developers trying to maximize profits (39%), large real estate investors buying up houses (35%), the amount of available housing (31%) and income inequality (30%).

If a lack of available housing is a factor in high costs of housing, as many Americans believe, one idea might be to build more affordable housing. Of course, it’s not as simple as that for many reasons, including that existing residents of a community may be opposed to affordable housing in their area — though just 12% think local residents' position on new development contributes a great deal to housing costs.

YouGov polled people on their familiarity with the term NIMBY, an abbreviation for “not in my backyard.” It’s often used when community members oppose the construction of something in their neighborhood, such as a new affordable housing development. Among the 27% of Americans who know what the term NIMBY is, 44% have a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the views associated with NIMBY-ism and 47% have a very or somewhat unfavorable view.

The inverse of NIMBY is YIMBY, which stands for “yes in my backyard” and usually is used to describe community members supporting new affordable housing or the conversion of existing buildings into affordable housing. One in five Americans is familiar with the term YIMBY; of these, 68% have a favorable opinion of the views associated with YIMBY-ism and 23% are unfavorable.

One reason someone might consider themselves a YIMBY is the belief that there just aren’t enough homes. More than two in five Americans (44%) think the number of homes being built in this country has not kept up with changes in the population. One-third (32%) think it has.

Another factor in the affordable housing discussion is wage growth. Most (67%) people say wage growth in the U.S. has not kept up with the cost of housing; just 19% think it has.

For people who can afford to buy houses at the current rates, about half of Americans think their communities are a good place to make long-term investments, though a similar share think now is a bad time to make the purchase.

Half of 53% of Americans say buying a house in their local community is a good investment; city dwellers are especially likely to say this (62%). This sentiment is echoed on the question of whether it’s a better financial decision to buy or rent in their community. Most Americans (58%) say buying is the way to go. Just 16% of Americans think it’s better to rent where they live.

Although Americans may see buying as the better financial decision, many (46%) also believe that it’s a bad time to buy a house in their local area. Fewer (37%) think it’s a good time to do so, though people who live in cities are more likely to say this (51%).

When few think it's a buyer's market, many think it's a seller's market. More Americans say it’s a good time to be selling a house (51%) than say it’s a bad time (29%).

This marks a notable change from May 2022, when a YouGov poll found that 64% of Americans said it was a good time to buy a house in their community and just 19% said it was a bad time to do so.

For people looking to buy, mortgage interest rates are surely a factor in their decisions. About half of Americans (52%) think mortgage interest rates will increase within the next year, including 20% who say they think rates will increase “a lot.” In May 2022, a higher percentage (62%) predicted mortgage rates increasing, including 30% who guessed they would increase “a lot.” (Depending on your definition of “a lot,” these predictions may have been correct).

Buyers may also want to consider the possibility that the country is in a housing bubble — in other words, the possibility that the market value of homes is artificially high and could crash when prices reach their correct levels. Two-thirds (68%) of Americans say it’s likely the U.S. is in a housing bubble now. As for when that bubble might burst, 20% think it’ll happen in about one year while 21% think it’ll happen in about two years.

Would renters be interested in joining the ranks of homeowners? Two-thirds (67%) say yes, if they could afford it. Among this group who would buy a home if they could, there are several factors they say are preventing them from doing so. Most (71%) say the cost of housing is too high and 67% say they can’t afford a down payment. Other reasons many cite include too-high interest rates (47%), a limited supply of housing (19%), and a plan for the future that doesn’t include their current location (16%).

But until they own, nearly half of renters (46%) at least report having a good relationship with their landlord. Fewer (33%) say it’s neutral, and just 3% have a bad relationship with their landlord. Another 15% of renters say they don’t have a relationship with their landlord.

Things might be rosier for homeowners in the U.S. Over half (55%) of homeowners — the 23% of Americans who own a home with a mortgage and the 38% who own their home outright — believe that the value of their house has increased in the last year, including 17% who say it has increased a lot. Fewer (27%) think the value of their home has stayed the same since 2022, and just 14% think their home’s value has decreased.

— Taylor Orth contributed to this article


See the results of this YouGov poll

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on May 18 - 28, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Adobe Stock (andranik123)