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Report: Frontline Workers Face Brunt of Housing Shortage

March 25, 2021

The pandemic is exacerbating a crisis for middle-income frontline workers searching for homes, according to a new study from the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing.

The impact from the COVID-19 outbreak and the surge in home prices have led to heightened risks of housing shortages for health care workers, frontline workers, and workers with a high risk of income disruption, according to ULI’s 2021 Home Attainability Index. For example, the study notes that median-wage geriatric nurses, cardiac technicians, or long-haul delivery truck drivers could afford to rent only a modest two-bedroom apartment in more than 50% of the regions analyzed.

The 2021 Home Attainability Index identifies the gaps in home attainability across the country and the occupations that have been affected the most by the global pandemic. The index measures 30 housing- and equity-related metrics across categories like affordability, homeownership attainability, rental attainability, neighborhood opportunity, and access and housing production.

“Patterns of housing insecurity and racial and socioeconomic inequality that existed prior to COVID-19 have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the associated economic downturn,” says Michael A. Spotts, author of the report and a visiting research fellow at ULI’s Terwilliger Center for Housing. “We are staring in the face of a situation in which many of the people who were critical in getting the population at large through this crisis face years of economic uncertainty and hardship as the country recovers.”

The most severe cost burdens among middle-income households are found in the most populous regions. But the shortage of homes for many socioeconomic groups is a widespread issue, the report notes.

The areas that scored among the highest on affordability but more poorly on racial and income segregation are Toledo, Ohio; Cleveland; Cincinnati; Birmingham, Ala.; Charlotte, N.C.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; St. Louis; Scranton, Pa.; and Louisville, Ky.

Meanwhile, the following places scored high on housing equity but low on affordability: San Diego; Los Angeles; Riverside, Calif.; Stockton, Calif.; Denver; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Portland, Ore.; Las Vegas; and Seattle.