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Volk’s claims are misleading and inaccurate.
A 2021 report released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found less than 50% of the population is severely cost-burdened – meaning that they pay more than 50% of their income on housing costs, including rent and utilities.
- The median housing-cost-to-income ratio among extremely low-income renters in Wisconsin is 67%, according to experts.
With the heart of winter approaching, and two people already found dead on Milwaukee streets, there is a renewed focus on homelessness.
And with it, housing affordability.
Joe Volk, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Homelessness, connected the two in a Nov. 17, 2021 appearance on PBS Wisconsin’s "Noon Wednesday," part of its "Here & Now" franchise:
"In Wisconsin," he said, "we have 50% of the population paying 50%, 60%, 70%, sometimes 80% for their housing so it should be no surprise then that the littlest thing, much less a pandemic, in these people’s lives is going to cause them not to be able to pay their rent."
That figure – at least half the population paying at least half their income for housing – caught our attention.
Is he right?
Volk is off the mark because he spoke so broadly. Had he focused more clearly just on renters, he would have been closer – but even then he underestimated the percentage.
Let’s dig in.
In making the claim, Volk spoke of "50% of the population," a statement that includes, well, everybody – homeowners and renters alike. Yet later he mentioned difficulty paying rent, which would narrow things.
As such, we are muddled from the start.
When asked for backup, Volk said he was referring to an annual state-by-state report about rent burden released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for decent and affordable housing for everyone.
The group’s 2021 report uses U.S. Census data, including from the American Community Survey from 2019. The report found that Wisconsin was one of 16 states – including Illinois, Idaho and Michigan – that had 31 to 40 affordable and available rental homes per 100 renter households classified as extremely low income. In Wisconsin’s case, the number was 37.
By that measure, California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Delaware and Florida rank as some of the worst states, all with 30 or fewer affordable and available rental homes. Wyoming and Mississippi rank as the best states with 61.
But Volk’s claim was not about a ranking, just about the percentages.
So, what can we glean from the study?
As of 2021, there are more than 2.3 million households in Wisconsin. Of that, 777,217 are renter households – with 188,097 of those households falling into the "severely cost-burdened" category, per the data.
The report defined "extremely low-income renters" as those making 30% of the area’s median income. In Wisconsin, that would be $24,394 or less.
So, that piece of the pie is getting smaller.
Of the "extremely low-income renters'' in Wisconsin, more than half are "severely cost burdened," according to Andrew Aurand, Vice President for Research at the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That is, they spend more than 50% of their income on housing costs, including rent and utilities.
The median housing-cost-to-income ratio among extremely low-income renters in Wisconsin is 67%, meaning the median extremely low-income renter spends 67% of their income on housing and many spend far more than that, Aurand said.
But remember: That is a subset of renters, not all renters – much less all households.
"More generally speaking, renters in Wisconsin are more likely to be severely cost-burdened than homeowners (19% vs. 6%) because owners typically have higher incomes," Aurand explained in an email to PolitiFact Wisconsin.
So, by that measure, far fewer than 50% of renters – let alone all households – are paying more than half their income on housing.
As such, not only is Volk’s statement more off base, it’s also completely wrong.
In connecting affordable housing and the pandemic to homelessness, Volk claimed: "In Wisconsin, we have 50% of the population paying 50%, 60%, 70%, sometimes 80% for their housing."
But the study he cited is far narrower than the way he stated the claim, which can be read as applying to all households, renter and homeowner alike.
In fact, far less than 50% of Wisconsin’s population is severely cost-burdened – meaning that they pay more than 50% of their income on housing costs, including rent and utilities.
We rate the claim False.
PBS "Here & Now" on 11/17/21.
Emails with Andrew Aurand, Vice President for Research at the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
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