Report Reveals Growing Housing Crisis:
Analyzing Worst Case Housing Needs

Mary Ann Priester

Senior Management Analyst
Mecklenburg County
Community Support Services

Last week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released the Executive Summary for their 2023 Worse Case Housing Needs Report to Congress.

The  2023 Worst Case Housing Needs Report to Congress analyzes recent data from the 2021 American Housing Survey (AHS) to examine critical housing challenges facing low-income renters. The 2023 report highlights a consistent increase in severe housing needs across demographics, households, and regions in the US since 2019. The rising demand for affordable rental housing continues to surpass income growth and the capacity of government to develop affordable housing stock and provide housing assistance. These factors have led to a record-breaking number of families facing worst case housing needs.

This blog provides an overview of worst case housing needs, the 2023 Executive Summary, and what it means for Charlotte-Mecklenburg.


“Worst case need” is a long-established gauge of the shortfall of accessible, safe, decent, affordable rental housing. Renter households are considered to have worst case needs if they are very low income (50% Area Median Income (AMI) or less), do not receive governmental housing assistance, and spend over half of their income on rent, reside in severely substandard conditions, or face a combination of these challenges.

The American Housing Survey (AHS) is a HUD funded, U.S. Census administered, housing survey that is conducted every two years during odd-numbered years. Its purpose is to obtain insights into various aspects of housing including but not limited to housing unit characteristics, vacancy rates, neighborhood and resident characteristics, and housing expenses.

The Worst Case Housing Needs report analyzes the most recent annual data from the American Housing Survey to identify causes of and trends in worst case need.


In 2021, there were 8.53 million renter households experiencing worst case needs, a 10% increase in cases compared to 7.77 million in 2019. The 2021 count sets a new record, surpassing the previous high of 8.48 million recorded in 2011. Over the past decade, an average of 8 million very low-income renters have been grappling with worst case housing needs, a substantial increase from the years prior to the 2007–2009 recession.

In 2021, the South had the highest prevalence with 3.17 million renter households experiencing worst case needs. This is almost a million more households than the West who had a prevalence of 2.25 million renter households with worse case needs, and almost twice as many renters with worse case needs in the Northeast (1.62 million), and Midwest (1.48 million) households in this category. Prevalence of worst case needs decreased in central cities between 2019 and 2021, but not in suburbs and nonmetropolitan areas. Urban suburbs witnessed the greatest increase.

In addition to the increase in the number of households facing worst case needs, there has been a corresponding rise in the rate at which very low-income (VLI) renters are encountering worst case need situations. The percentage of VLI renters experiencing worst case needs, was 44.1 percent in 2021, a 1.9 percentage increase from 2019, and the highest prevalence since 2011. Worst case needs also increased across all household types most notably with a 4.2% increase among families with minor children and 6.3% among multiple adult households. Worst case needs prevalence increased 3.2% among non-Hispanic Blacks and 2.3% among Hispanics. Rental assistance decreased for non-Hispanic Blacks from 2019 to 2021 but stayed the same for non-Hispanic Whites and Hispanics.


COVID-19 and its impacts on the economy, labor market, and household incomes contributed to the increases in worst case needs we see represented in the 2021 Annual Housing Survey data.

In the majority of households, worst case needs stem from significant rent burdens, where more than half of the household’s income goes towards rent. In 2021, VLI renter households faced significant challenges due to inadequate market supply, heightened competition for affordable units, and a shortage of rental assistance. Only a minor proportion, 2.8 percent, of worst-case needs were attributed to inadequate housing quality.

Worst case needs are ultimately driven by housing affordability. Housing affordability is facilitated by private market adequate and available rentals with reasonable rates, through public rental assistance, or a combination of both.

The most significant contributors to the rise in worst case needs were:

  • Household formation, net increase in new households resulting from population changes marked by the establishment of new single-person or multi-person households in separate housing units.
  • Rise in very low income renter households (households with incomes below 50 percent of AMI).
  • Heightened competition for affordable units that limited their accessibility for households with very low incomes.
  • Further widening of the already substantial income gap between households eligible for housing assistance and those who actually receive it.
  • Lack of rental subsidies from federal, state, or local governments


Data presented in the 2022 State of Housing Instability and Homelessness (SOHIH) report is consistent with findings presented in the Worst Case Needs Executive Summary. This local report highlights many of the factors within the current housing ecosystem that contribute to worst case housing needs in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

In Mecklenburg County, over the last 10 years, inflation-adjusted median monthly rent has increased 28% (or $286, from $1042 in 2011 to $1,328 in 2021). This increase disproportionately impacts low-income and cost-burdened renters, the majority of whom identify as Black and/or Latin(a)(e)(o). The median income for renter households in Charlotte-Mecklenburg in 2021 was $52,679 which is considered low-income for some household types. The low median income for renter households is due to the prevalence of low-wage jobs in the Charlotte Metropolitan Area (which includes Mecklenburg County and surrounding counties).

The cost of housing is correlated with the availability of low-cost housing inventory. In Mecklenburg County, demand for low-cost rental housing outpaces supply. Between 2011 and 2021, inflation- adjusted, low- cost rental housing stock (rental units with monthly rent below $800 per month) fell from approximately 45% (or 66,067 units) of the total rental housing stock to only 13% (or 26,067 units) of the total stock. With less low-cost housing stock available, low-income households may have to rent higher-cost units that can result in cost-burden.

Forty-seven percent of Mecklenburg County renter households were cost-burdened in 2021, paying more that 30% of their monthly household income towards housing-related expenses. This is an increase of 41% since 2011. Twenty percent of renter households in Mecklenburg County were severely cost- burdened, contributing 50% or more of their income to their housing, in 2011.

Extremely low-income households (defined as a household with income at or below 30% Area Median Income or AMI) are at an especially high risk of experiencing housing cost-burden. Unlike higher-income households, extremely low- income households have a limited amount of choice in available rental stock which they can afford. In Mecklenburg County, there are approximately two extremely low-income households for every one rental unit affordable for households with income at or below 30% AMI. According to a City of Charlotte analysis, there is a 27,306-unit gap in rental units affordable to households at or below 30% AMI. This means that potentially 27,306 households with income at or below 30% AMI had to rent up due to a lack of affordable and available rental housing for their income bracket.

Rising rents, a lack of low-cost housing inventory, and a lack of affordable units for extremely low-income households all contribute to the prevalence of worst case housing needs in Charlotte-Mecklenburg.


Between 2019 and 2021, worst case housing needs underwent a significant increase due to multiple factors, including household formation resulting from population growth, a wider rental assistance gap for eligible very low-income households, and the persistent shortage of affordable rental housing. Worst case needs impacted diverse households across all regions—urban, suburban, and rural—regardless of ethnicity or family composition. Improvements in worst case needs can occur when economic growth enhances household incomes, affordable housing production lowers market rents, or rental assistance availability improves. There is an urgent need for a comprehensive strategy at federal, state, and local levels to address the affordable housing crisis by implementing community-based interventions that enhance the local economy, support affordable housing production, and provide rental assistance for the most vulnerable households.