More than three in four Virginians see housing affordability as a problem in America today

A miniature house is perched on top of a Jenga tower. A hand removes one of the pieces from the t...
Almost half of Virginians (47%) see housing affordability as a very serious problem, according to a new statewide poll by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. (Getty Images)

More than three in four Virginians (78%) see housing affordability as a problem in America today, and almost half (47%) see it as a very serious problem, according to a new statewide poll by the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.

However, when asked about housing affordability where they lived, respondents were less likely to see it as a problem (57%). And only one-third (33%) see it as a very serious problem. Likewise, respondents expressed a sense of security in their current housing situation, with 47% saying they felt very stable and secure and 33% saying they felt fairly stable and secure, the poll found.

The poll, conducted by landline and cellphone from June 9-19, is a random sample of 816 adults in Virginia with an overall margin of error of 3.43 percentage points.

The poll also found that about one-third (34%) of respondents said that they or someone they knew had been evicted, foreclosed upon, or lost their housing in the past five years. When asked about perceptions of future housing costs, the majority of respondents (69%) felt that the average rent in their area would increase. The majority (67%) also believe the average home price in their area will increase. Thirty percent of respondents said that they have had to take on an additional job, or work more at their current job, to make housing payments in the past three years.

“Even with the governor and General Assembly’s legislative response to data showing half of the top 10 large cities with the highest eviction rates are in Virginia, there’s a continued sense that Virginians see housing affordability as a real problem and are feeling the strain of housing costs,” said Fabrizio Fasulo, Ph.D., Director of the Wilder School’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis.

 

Housing affordability is seen as a problem in the United States

Respondents in the South Central (60%) and Tidewater (50%) regions say housing affordability is a very serious problem in America. The West, Northwest and Northern Virginia regions were more likely to say affordability is a fairly serious problem, (33%, 23% and 20% respectively).

Women (51%) were more likely than men (42%) to see the problem as very serious, while men were more likely to say it is not a problem at all (21% vs 8% of women). Minorities were more likely to see the problem as very serious (58%) compared to 41% of whites. Democrats and independents were more likely to see affordability as a very serious problem (57% and 51% respectively) compared to Republicans (31%). Republicans (25%) were more likely to say it’s not a problem at all compared to 13% of independents and 7% of Democrats.

 

Local housing affordability is seen as a problem in some regions of Virginia

When asked about housing affordability where they live, respondents in the South Central region were again more likely to say it was a very serious problem (47%), followed by those in Northern Virginia (41%). Respondents in the Northwest (55%), Tidewater (51%) and West (40%) regions were more likely to say affordability was not a problem in their area.

College graduates were more likely to see affordability as a very serious problem in their area (41%), compared to respondents with some college (29%) and those with a high school education or less (28%). Minorities were more likely to say affordability was a very serious problem (42% vs 28% of whites). Independents and Democrats were more likely to say very serious (43% and 40% respectively) compared to 17% of Republicans. Republicans were more likely to say affordability was not a problem at all in their area (58%) compared to independents (35%) and Democrats (28%).

Even with the governor and General Assembly’s legislative response to data showing half of the top 10 large cities with the highest eviction rates are in Virginia, there’s a continued sense that Virginians see housing affordability as a real problem and are feeling the strain of housing costs.

 

Majority of participants felt stable in their current housing situation

In addition to not seeing affordability as a problem in their area, a majority of respondents in the Tidewater, Northwest and West were more likely to say they felt very stable and secure in their current housing situations (56%, 52% and 50% respectively). Whereas South Central (41%) and Northern Virginia (40%) still had about four in 10 saying the same.

Respondents with incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 said they feel very stable and secure (54%). While those with family income of less than $50,000 were more likely to say fairly stable and secure (40%). A majority of whites (55%) said they feel very stable in their current housing situation while only 32% of minorities say the same. A majority of Republicans (61%) say they feel very stable compared to 41% of independents and 39% of Democrats.

 

Limited budget, poor credit score, and lack of down payment noted as primary obstacles to home ownership

Sixty percent of respondents own their home, while 35% rent and 6% live with their parents or in some other arrangement. These numbers are comparable to percentages reported in a 2016 national survey on housing issues. When those who rent or live with parents (41% of the total sample) were asked whether they aspire to own a home, 70% said yes, 22% said no and 8% said they don’t know. This group also was asked about obstacles to buying a home. Twenty-two percent said there were limited options within their budget, 18% noted a poor credit history, 15% said they lacked the down payment and 11% noted existing debt being an obstacle.

Those respondents with incomes of $50,000 or more were much more likely to own a home — 72% with incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 and 85% of those with incomes over $100,000. More than half (53%) of those making less than $50,000 rent. Respondents in Tidewater, Northwest and West were more likely to own their home (67%, 66% and 65% respectively) while those in South Central (48%) and Northern Virginia (37%) were more likely to rent. Two-thirds of whites (66%) own their home, while minorities are more split between owning (49%) and renting (43%). Republicans are more likely to own (77%), while Democrats and independents are split — 54% of Democrats own and 42% rent; while 46% of independents rent and 42% own.

 

Minorities and those with lower levels of education more likely to spend more than 30% of monthly income on housing

Respondents also were asked how much of their monthly income went to mortgage or rent. A commonly used measure of affordability is spending less than 30% of total income on housing. Using that measure, 35% of the respondents said they spend more than 30% of their total monthly income on rent or mortgage, 45% said they spent less and 16% said they don’t know. 

Level of education and income played a significant role in a respondent spending more than 30% on housing. A majority of those making under $50,000 (52%) spend more than a third of their income on housing. Those with income of $100,000 or more were likely to spend less than 30% on housing (71%). Likewise, more than half of college graduates (57%) spend less than 30%, while only 38% of those with a high school education or less said the same. Those with a high school education or less also were more likely to say they don’t know (23%). Minorities were more likely to spend more than 30% on housing (46%) compared to only 29% of whites. Democrats were more likely to spend more than 30% on housing (44%), Republicans were more likely to spend less (55%), and independents were more evenly split (36% spend less than 30%, 31% spend more than 30%).

 

Housing costs perceived to be on the rise

Respondents also were asked whether they thought housing costs would increase or decrease over the next year. For both rent and home prices, more than two-thirds of respondents thought costs would increase significantly or somewhat. Sixty-nine percent said average rent would increase significantly or somewhat and 67% thought the same about average home prices. About a fourth of the respondents thought prices would stay the same (21% for average rent and 22% for average home price). Very few respondents, less than 5%, thought rent or home prices would decrease.

When asked about making lifestyle adjustments to pay rent or mortgage in the past three years, 30% of respondents said they had to take an additional job or work more at their current job. Another 18% said they had to cut back on buying healthy food, 17% said they accumulated credit-card debt and 14% said they stopped saving for retirement. Forty nine percent said they had not made any lifestyle adjustments in the past three years.

 

Virginians support changes in renting and eviction policies

Even after the Governor signed seven pieces of legislation aimed at curbing evictions respondents were very supportive of additional policy measures. Three-fourths of Virginians (75%) supported changing laws to increase the length of time that renters have to pay past-due rent from seven to 14 days. And more than three-fourths of respondents (78%) would support legislation making it easier for tenants to withhold rent from landlords who don’t make necessary repairs in a specified amount of time. Only 12% opposed.

With regard to extending the time allowed to pay past due rent, support was consistently in the majority with all regions indicating more than 70% support, with the exception of the Northwest with 63%. Respondents in the Northwest were more likely to say they don’t know (22%). Those making less than $50,000 were more supportive (86%), compared to 79% of those with income of $50,000 to $100,000 and 70% of those with income over $100,000. Minorities (88%) were more supportive than whites (70%). Almost all Democrats (93%) were supportive of the change compared to 65% of independents and 58% of Republicans.

For potential legislation to make it easier to withhold rent for unaddressed repairs, regionally, Tidewater, Northern Virginia and South Central respondents supported (89%, 85% and 82% respectively). The Northwest and West had lower levels of support (67% and 57%) but significantly high levels of “don’t know” responses (22% and 28% respectively). An overwhelming 90% of those with income of $50,000 to $100,000 were supportive of the measure. Those making under $50,000 and over $100,000 still had high levels of support, 80% and 77% respectively. Minorities were more likely to support, 87% vs 74% of whites, and all party identifications were highly supportive, with Democrats showing the most support (85%) compared with 76% of Republicans and 70% of independents.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 217 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Thirty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.

About the Wilder School and the Center for Public Policy

The L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, named for the nation’s first African-American elected governor, is a top-50 nationally ranked public affairs school. Located blocks from the state Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, the school enrolls about 1,000 undergraduates and 400 graduate students in eight academic programs. The Wilder School’s 10,000-plus alumni work across the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Drawing on the wide-ranging expertise of Wilder School faculty, the Center for Public Policy's programs provide diverse public-facing services including leadership development and training, economic and policy impact analysis, survey insights and program evaluation to clients in state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, businesses and the general public, across Virginia and beyond. For more, please visit https://wilder.vcu.edu/center-for-public-policy/.