Millions of low-income households across the United States face housing instability and risk for homelessness because of their inability to afford housing costs. In 2014, 6.6 million low-income renter households experienced severe housing cost burden and 7 million low-income households were doubled up, living with friends or family.1 Many households make the decision to double up because they cannot afford housing costs independently.2 While families who experience housing instability may have a place to live, they often lack the financial and social resources to maintain existing housing or obtain subsequent safe and affordable housing if they lose their housing.3

Housing instability is commonly evidenced by frequency of moves, moving because of housing costs, foreclosure, frequency of evictions, doubling up, prior experience of homelessness, living in hotels or motels that are not paid for by government or charitable organizations, or an individual’s ability to pay housing costs.4-10


People a day face housing instability at Crisis Assistance Ministry

Kushel and colleagues (2006) measured housing instability as difficulty paying rent or mortgage in the previous 12 months. By this measure, all persons who receive financial stability services at Crisis Assistance Ministry would be considered unstably housed.On average, 93 people a day facing housing instability seek assistance at Crisis Assistance Ministry, which equates to 15,143 families including 17,078 children each year (FY16). They are overwhelmingly African-American (83%) and women (60%) and have an average head of household age of 43 years old.

A household is considered housing cost burdened if they spend 30% to 50% of their gross income on housing costs.


Customers at Crisis Assistance Ministries pay

Crisis Assistance Ministry provides 2.5 million dollars annually in rental assistance alone. The average family income of persons seeking assistance at Crisis Assistance Ministry is $1,295 monthly; the average household rent is $715 per month (55% of income) and average utility costs are $188 per month (14.6% of income). This means on average Crisis Assistance Ministry customers are paying 70% of their income toward housing costs.

Meet Lillie

Lillie was stuck in a hotel where she could pay the weekly rate, but not save enough to move into her own apartment.

When Lillie came to Crisis Assistance Ministry, she and her daughters were living out of suitcases in a pay-by-the-week hotel and eating from the dollar menu at McDonalds. Before being forced into the hotel, Lillie and her daughters were barely making ends meet when their landlord sold the house they were renting and gave them 30 days to get out. Even before this emergency, Lillie’s life had not been easy. Years of barely getting by had negatively impacted Lillie’s health. Not yet 50, she had already suffered two heart attacks. Her 14-year-old daughter faces speech and development delays that require specific treatments. Without a permanent address, Lillie’s daughter could not receive the in-home medical care she needed.

The family found a new apartment, but they could not move in right away because they could not pay for the new deposits, first month’s rent, etc., all at once. Their savings had been exhausted on hotel and storage unit fees. Crisis Assistance Ministry assisted Lillie’s family with a partial rent payment to their new landlord which allowed them to move into their new apartment.

A household is considered moderately housing cost burdened if they spend 30%-50% of their gross income on housing costs; a household spending more than 50% of their income on housing costs is considered severely housing cost burdened.11,12 By these standards, on average, persons seeking assistance at Crisis Assistance Ministry are severely housing cost burdened and likely chronically unstably housed.

Moderate and severe housing cost-burden contributes to high rates of housing instability and eviction among low-income families but also forces families to make difficult decisions in relation to other basic needs and living conditions, as illustrated by Lillie’s story.11,13 Severely housing cost-burdened households spend 41% less on food each month, less on health care, and save less towards retirement.11

Housing instability has been associated with food insecurity, poor access to health care, high rates of emergency or acute health services utilization, negative health outcomes such as anxiety and depression, cardiovascular disease, substance abuse, and unhealthy eating, and disruptions in social networks.4,14-16

Housing instability has also been linked to poor child and adolescent outcomes including reduced academic performance and increased prevalence of social and behavioral problems.17,18

Meet The Johnsons

The Johnson’s story shows that the impact of housing instability goes beyond housing for families – it affects a child’s education.

The Johnsons are a married couple with two young children, Mark and Sean.  Mr. Johnson is employed as a carpenter, but his work hours have been lower than normal lately.  When the rent and the electric bill were due at the same time earlier this month, Mr. Johnson was forced to make a choice.  He paid the rent, but had no money left for the electric bill. When the disconnection notice from Duke Energy came in the mail, Mr. Johnson called and made a payment arrangement, thinking that surely he would get enough hours at work to pay the bill.  But he didn’t, and the power was turned off. The Johnson family stayed in the home without electricity for two days because they didn’t want to ask for help.

When the weather got cold at night they went to stay with a family member and all slept on the living room floor for a week.  It was very challenging to get their 6-year-old to school each morning. He normally rides the school bus. Since they were staying out of their neighborhood, they had to find an alternate way to get him to school. He had to miss a few days because they couldn’t find a ride. Crisis Assistance Ministry assisted the Johnson family by making a direct payment to Duke Energy for their past due electric bill. Since the electricity was restored, the family could move back into their home and Sean could return to his regular routine of taking the bus to school.

Structural factors such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, and poor economic conditions are risk factors for housing instability.19

Race-based and gender-based discriminatory housing practices and forced relocation or eviction are experienced disproportionately by low-income Black and African American women and contribute to housing instability among minority- and female-led households.15, 20-23 Risk profiles for housing instability vary by income, age, interaction with public assistance, and homeownership.24 The costs of housing instability are not limited to individual households, but also impact government and charitable programs that are ultimately needed to support unstably housed families.11 Risk factors and risk profiles for housing instability are important considerations for service providers and policymakers when considering target populations for funding, programming components, and points of intervention.

Crisis Assistance Ministry is the Lead Agency offering financial assistance and fostering financial stability and economic mobility for impoverished families in Mecklenburg County. Specifically, Crisis Assistance Ministry prevents homelessness, preserves dignity, and assists struggling families as they work toward financial stability by: addressing their immediate crisis with emergency rent and utility assistance; providing free clothing, household goods, furniture and appliances allowing families to divert those funds towards household costs; providing counseling, services and support to give families the tools they need to achieve economic mobility; and educating the community about the realities of poverty in Mecklenburg County.

Visit them online at www.crisisassistance.org or www.facebook.com/crisisassistance.




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