Many Asian American Renters Are Struggling to Pay for Housing

Asian American households have the highest median income of the major racial and ethnic groups. Although Asian Americans have a higher median income than the non-Hispanic white population, they also have a higher poverty ratethan the white population on the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). (The SPM is a more comprehensive poverty measure that also makes geographic adjustments for differences in housing costs.) This means that there is a significant amount of income inequality in the Asian American population, and the median income is masking the economic condition of impoverished Asian Americans.

About 40 percent of Asian American households are renters. According to data from the Joint Center for Housing Studies, in 2022, 44 percent of Asian American renters spent more than 30 percent of their household income on housing costs. While this 30 percent standard is a common measure of affordability, it may be too low a threshold for economic hardship for today’s economy. But, even using the severely cost-burdened standard, where a household is spending more than 50 percent of its income on housing, a full quarter (25.3 percent) of Asian American renters are in this situation.

The rate of Asian American renters with severe cost-burdens — households paying more than 50 percent of their household income on housing costs — varies by metropolitan area. Figure 1 shows the severe-cost-burden rate for Asian Americans in selected metropolitan areas. Los Angeles has the highest rate (30.4 percent), with nearly a third of Asian American renters with severe cost burdens. Interestingly, the other California metropolitan areas, San Francisco (22.8 percent) and San Jose (19.2 percent), have significantly lower rates than Los Angeles, although they still have high rates. Boston (27.0 percent), New York (26.0 percent), Washington, DC (24.7 percent), Dallas (24.3 percent), and Chicago (23.8 percent) all have similar severe-cost-burden rates that are close to the overall national Asian American rate of 25.3 percent. The lowest rate among the selected areas is Seattle with 17.1 percent of Asian American renters with severe cost burdens.

The data in Figure 1 shows that many Asian American renters like many renters found in all other racial groups are facing difficulties affording high rents. Affordable rental housing policy continues to fail low-income renters as it has been doing since at least as early as the 1960s. Policymakers need to discard rental housing policies that were designed to meet the needs of the real estate industry and investors and put the needs of renters first. To do this will require bold new approaches like ending the prohibition on the construction of federal public housing so that the country can make large investments in high-quality, mixed-income social housing.

This first appeared on CEPR.

Algernon Austin, a senior research fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has conducted research and writing on issues of race and racial inequality for over 20 years. His primary focus has been on the intersection of race and the economy.