The number of Americans whose income, housing, and even their lifestyle, is so dire that the federal government labels them the “worst case” dramatically increased in just two years, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said Feb. 1.

The study found that the number of worst case housing needs grew to nearly 1.2 million households from 2007 to 2009. Since 2001, that number has jumped 42 percent.

Called “Worst Case Needs 2009,” the study zeroes in on issues faced by low-income non-subsidized U.S. renters, and was sent to Congress on Feb. 1. The report draws on information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey, conducted between May and September 2009.

The data was collected prior to the implementation of the Obama administration’s economic stimulus package.

“These numbers show the scale of challenge inherited by the Obama administration, with a historic increase in need during the two years before we took office,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donavan said in a statement. “The report shows a clear link between unemployment and housing needs and that’s why the President has been so focused on creating jobs. A growing economy and new jobs, combined with HUD’s new commitments to produce and preserve affordable rental housing is what we need to reverse this trend.”

The report found that worst case needs extended to all regions of the country and affected all racial and ethnic groups. Households with children, senior citizens and individuals with disabilities were among those with the most needs.

The U.S. job crisis played a primary role in the drastic jump in needs, as unemployment and underemployment forced 410,000 more households into the worst case needs category.

Portions of the stimulus package addressed issues in family incomes and the need for affordable housing.

The Recovery Act’s Tax Credit Assistance Program and Public Housing Fund allowed for the rehabilitation or construction of nearly 341,000 units of affordable housing. Also, the Recovery Act granted rental subsidy to nearly 1.2 million units of affordable housing through HUD’s Project-based Rental Assistance Program.

Still, Shiv Newaldass, director of advocacy for the Washington D.C.-based affordable housing nonprofit group Housing Advocacy Team believes policymakers should make decisions in better alignment with residents’ needs.

“There’s a growing discrepancy even in the District, for what’s considered affordable for families in the city, Newaldass told the AFRO. “It’s a crazy crisis that I don’t see improving unless certain policies are changed. The way it’s structured right now, it’s not the best way to approach poverty and housing and specifically address what happens when everything changes except the incomes of the families living in these units.”

Gregory Dale

AFRO News Editor