Jessica McAmis thought her housing woes were over in March when she received a federal voucher that would provide $1,430 a month to help pay for a three-bedroom apartment in Howard County, Indiana.

The money came at the perfect time. McAmis, a self-employed custodian, and her two teenage daughters had just been evicted after struggling to keep up with rent.

“I was so ecstatic,” she said. “I was like, ‘Yes, we’re going to get out of this dump and into a great place.’”

But that joy quickly turned to dismay. After dozens of phone calls, McAmis realized there was no housing to be found. It was either all occupied by other renters, or the landlord wouldn’t accept her voucher.

More than two months later, McAmis and her kids still haven’t found a rental. In early May, they all moved into her grandma’s two-bedroom trailer, along with her 70-pound dog and two cats.

If McAmis doesn’t use the financial assistance in the next two months, she’ll lose the money provided through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.

“I’ve been almost making myself sick trying to find somewhere to go,” she said.

That same story is playing out in nearly every city in every state. A crushing lack of housing combined with skyrocketing rent and home-loan interest rates have placed many Americans under the threat of eviction, foreclosure or homelessness.

This series of stories reported by CNHI delves into the reasons behind the nation’s staggering lack of affordable housing, how it’s impacting residents and what government officials and community leaders are doing to find solutions.

Not a new issue

The nation’s lack of affordable housing isn’t new. Decades of underbuilding have led to a shortage of more than 7 million homes for the country’s 10.8 million extremely low-income families, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

But pandemic-induced pressures on the market over the last three years have pushed the housing crisis to a fever pitch. New construction came to a standstill. Home and rental prices ballooned. Vacancy rates plummeted. The number of people facing evictions soared.

Federal and state funding provided relief to many families struggling to pay their mortgages or rent during the COVID-19 outbreak. That money is all but gone. The need for financial assistance has only grown.

That’s something officials at the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation know too well. Earlier this year, the nonprofit raised $60 million in bond sales to help lower mortgage interest rates for those struggling to afford a home.

So many Texans applied that the financial assistance was gone in two weeks, according to Katie Howard Claflin, the corporation’s senior director of communications and development.

“I think that really shows you what a need there is for mortgage loans with a lower interest rate,” she said.

The silver lining to high rates? It cooled off the on-fire homebuying market, which during the pandemic saw house prices sometimes jump by 40%. New apartment construction is also on the rise and will likely bring relief to soaring rental rates, according to a report by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

But that silver lining doesn’t apply to the tens of millions of low-income Americans.

“For lower-income households and households of color, the pressure of high housing costs is unlikely to relent,” the report says. “The surge in the prices of gas, food and other necessities has made matters worse, especially now that most emergency government supports have ended.”

Today, just 1 in 4 extremely low-income families who need assistance receive it, according to the low-income housing coalition. Seventy percent of all extremely low-income families pay more than half their income on rent, leaving little money for food and health care.

Fixing the crisis is complex, but there are steps policymakers can take now to curb the growing number of Americans left behind by the nation’s changing housing market, according to Chris Herbert, managing director of Harvard’s housing studies center.

“The pandemic has brought the long-simmering rental affordability crisis to the fore,” he said. “The nation has the opportunity to … ensure that every household has access to a decent and affordable home.”

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