IREM Blogs

Discrimination, Apartment Size Squeeze Renting Families

June 20, 2019 | John Salustri

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It’s not only affordability that’s putting the squeeze on potential family renters. A lack of family-sized units as well as discrimination—even in the face of laws dictating otherwise—are still evident in the sector. So says the recently released “Estimating the Gap in Affordable and Available Rental Units for Families” from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Affordability is still the Big Issue, of course. “Lack of affordable housing supply is one of the largest barriers for families seeking housing, particularly among those with low incomes,” says the report, citing research from the Urban Institute (as opposed to the  ULI, or Urban Land Institute): “. . . The rental market provided only 21 adequate, affordable and available units for every 100 extremely low-income renter households.”

The Harvard report also tracks a shift—not to the better—in the construction of family-sized units since the days of the housing boom. “From 2001 to 2007,” it states, “the share of larger units exceeded 20 percent of newly constructed rental units, a record high since the Census began collecting this data in 1978. In the wake of the foreclosure crisis, however, new construction shifted toward a greater share of smaller apartments.”

In fact, by 2015, about half of new multifamily units were efficiencies or one-bedroom types. But while half the stock might sound adequate, there are competitive forces at work, further coloring the picture. “Paired with decreasing household sizes, the growth in the supply of larger units would theoretically provide adequately sized housing for family households. However, competition with households without children poses a significant challenge for families searching for rental housing. For example, particularly in the aftermath of the recession, roommate households may occupy units that would otherwise be available to households with children.”

Probably the most troubling aspect of the family squeeze is discriminatory practices on the part of landlords, despite laws to the contrary and the best efforts of organizations such as IREM and its members.

Despite such protections, the report states, “Of the 8,385 Fair Housing complaints that HUD received in 2016, 882 resulted from familial status discrimination . . . . HUD found that families with two children were shown fewer units and units with higher rents than families with only one child. Families with children received differential treatment in their search for one-bedroom apartments in particular.”

It has been said that recognizing a problem is the first step to solving it. The problem of affordable housing has long been on the industry’s radar, but relatively little is heard of the specific plight of families. “This study is a first step in understanding the supply constraints that renter families face,” the report sums up. “While we don’t suggest that families should receive ultimate priority, we do encourage planners and policymakers to consider the needs of families with children.”

Keep watching IREM Blogs for the Joint Center’s “State of the Nation’s Housing,” due out later this month.

About the Author
John Salustri is editor-in-chief of Salustri Content Solutions, Inc., a consultancy focused on enhancing the web and print content of clients around the nation. He is a regular contributor to JPM Magazine and a frequent blogger for IREM. Prior to launching SCS, John was founding editor of

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