Report: Despite their service, many veterans struggle with affordable housing

While homelessness among U.S. veterans is on the decline, significant housing challenges remain, according to a new report from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

Released this week just a day after Veterans Day, the report finds that in 2011, more than a quarter of the nation’s 20 million veteran households experienced a housing cost burden (defined as spending more than 30 percent of income on housing costs and utilities) and more than 1.5 million veterans were severely cost burdened (spending more than half of their incomes on housing costs and utilities). Within those numbers, certain groups of veterans were more at risk to experience housing instability. More than 50 percent of black veteran households with incomes between 50 and 80 percent of the area median were considered housing cost burdened, compared to only 36 percent of white veterans and 48 percent of Hispanic veterans. The numbers are based on data from the 2011 American Community Survey.

“These findings confirm that veterans with low incomes suffer from the shortage of affordable, decent housing just as low-income non-veterans do,” stated the report. “Despite their sacrifice and status as people who have served in the armed forces, they are at risk of housing instability and homelessness.”

Women were also at higher risk, as veteran households headed by single women were more likely to experience a housing cost burden than single male veteran households and married households. Veterans living with a service-related disability that Veterans Affairs (VA) ranks at 70 percent or higher make up more than 25 percent of severely housing cost burdened households. In addition, veterans who recently served in Iraq and Afghanistan were more likely to be housing cost burdened than other veterans. Veteran households with children were more likely to face housing cost burdens and, unfortunately, more than 60 percent of VA-funded transitional housing programs don’t accept children or limit their numbers.

The housing statistics vary by geography as well. For example, while 71 percent of extremely low-income veteran households were severely cost burdened overall, that number went down to 37 percent in South Dakota and as high as 82 percent in Nevada, Oregon and Washington, D.C.

The report does note that homelessness among veterans is in decline, with 2012 numbers down by more than 7 percent from 2011 and more than 17 percent since 2009.

While housing instability among those who’ve put their lives on the line for the country seems especially troublesome, the report notes that affordable housing is a problem across populations. Report authors Althea Arnold, Megan Bolton and Sheila Crowley write:

Finding decent, affordable housing is a challenge for too many households in America. For every 100 (extremely low-income) renter households, there are just 30 affordable and available units (NLIHC, 2013). While veteran households overall have higher employment rates and median incomes than non-veterans (VA, 2013b), many still face housing problems. Increasing rents, stagnating wages, and the extreme shortage of affordable housing are affecting veteran households nationwide.

Housing is just one of many critical social determinants that shape veteran health. For example, according to the Urban Institute, about 1.3 million veterans went without health insurance as of 2010, and more than 900,000 adults and children within veteran families were uninsured. Also, about 900,000 veterans participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), though recent congressional proposals to slash the program’s budget could put the food security of 170,000 low-income veterans at risk.

To download a copy of “Housing Instability Among Our Nation’s Veterans,” click here. And to read our previous coverage of the growing gaps between wages and affordable housing, click here.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.

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