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Sustainable Affordable Housing

Across the country, and in Western North Carolina, there is a growing awareness of the connection between affordable housing and community sustainability. The federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which includes the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was formed to “help communities become economically strong and environmentally sustainable.” Of the six sustainability principles adopted by the Partnership, the second is to “promote equitable, affordable housing to expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.” This growing awareness could not come at a better time, as more households, particularly lower income households, are cost-burdened. According to a report based on American Community Survey data and published by the U.S. Census Bureau, “Increasingly, householders are not able to afford the homes they are in, and are losing them. Renters also are facing increasing challenges in meeting their monthly housing costs. Utilities, real estate taxes, and insurance rates are increasing – costs that are passed on to renters in increased rents.” In other words, families are spending too much on housing. HUD has adopted the standard that a household is cost-burdened when it spends more than 30 percent of its gross income on housing costs, and a household spending more than 50 percent is severely cost-burdened.

Benchmarking Affordable Housing

Two-Bedroom Fair Market Rent MapA way to benchmark housing affordability in a community is to track renter cost burden. (The graph in Housing Overview shows that about 20 percent of the dwellings in the MRC region are occupied by renters.) The National Low Income Housing Coalition annually publishes its Out of Reach Report, which uses Census and HUD data to assess the state of renters in every county in the United States. With a focused effort to increase the region’s affordable housing stock by using sustainable building practices, Western North Carolina residents will have more and better housing choices.

It is important to note that, for the region, renter’s family median income is $25,700 less than the region’s total family median income. Households with lower incomes are at greater risk of housing problems caused by cost burden.Rent Affordable with Full-Time Job Map

The first map shows the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment. There is not a lot of variability in this metric across the region, but the average cost is over $600 per month. When compared to the data in the following map, the problem becomes clear. The second map shows the rent affordable with full-time job paying mean renter wage. With this metric, there is greater variability across the region, which explains why many people with low-paying jobs live far from where they work. The average renter in the region needs an additional $191 in income each month to afford a two-bedroom fair market rent apartment. This is not sustainable, and with rising energy costs linked to utilities and transportation, the situation is becoming more untenable.Percent of Renters Unable to Afford Two-Bedroom Housing Map

The final map shows the percentage of renter population that cannot afford a two-bedroom fair market rent apartment. Over half of entry-level jobs cannot support basic rent in our region. This statistic and map mirrors the map showing the percentage of the region’s population living in poverty (see Economic Environment | Income | Poverty). The lack of affordable housing may contribute to an increase in poverty.


Schwartz, Mary and Ellen Wilson. Who Can Afford To Live in a Home?: A look at data from the 2006 American Community Survey. US Census Bureau. Accessed from:

Housing Assistance Council’s Green Building/Healthy Homes Initiative. Spring 2010. Rural Voices 15(1). Accessed from:

National Association of Realtors. Winter 2012. On Common Ground, Sustainable Housing issue. Accessed from:

Map Sources and Notes:

Fiscal Year 2011 Fair Market Rents (HUD, 2011):

Fiscal Year 2011 Area Median Income (HUD, 2011):

National Low Income Housing Coalition. Out of Reach 2011: Online Guide to Data Usage and Sources. Accessed from: