What Is Affordable Housing?

The most common benchmark for housing affordability is the definition used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD states that housing is affordable when it requires 30% or less of a household's income. Households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing are considered "cost-burdened".

Affordability is not the only reason for housing disparities in America. Structural racism has created many other barriers to wealth and housing for BIPOC people.

Housing affordability is difficult to measure.

The HUD benchmark for affordable housing provides a convenient rule of thumb, but it is an incomplete metric. For example, it doesn't account for non-housing expenses such as daycare, tuition, or high medical bills. It also doesn't consider hard decisions for low-income households, such as choosing to pay rent instead of paying an electric bill.

Lack of affordable housing can lead to homelessness.

According to the 2020 Count Us In report, approximately 8% of individuals without a home in King County reported that they were homeless because they couldn't afford a rent increase. Housing affordability is listed as the fourth most common reason for living unhoused.

Homelessness increases faster in areas where households spend about 32% or more of their income on rent. The relationship between rent increases and homelessness is stronger in the Seattle area than most major cities.

Who Has Access to Housing?

Insights from the data below:

  • Renters are more likely to be cost-burdened than homeowners.
  • The highest rates of cost-burdened households are found among Black or African households and among American Indian and Alaskan Native households.

Additional housing data is available on the following City of Seattle webpages:

Why Do We Need Affordable Housing?

Housing provides a safe place to live, rest, and plan for the future. These basic needs are critical for any individual or family to live a healthy, successful life.

Housing offers numerous long-term benefits, including wealth accumulation and community connections.

Stories from the Community

Wa Na Wari

Wa Na Wari carries on the legacy and culture of Seattle's Central District, a historically Black community where many Black residents have been forced out due to rising housing costs.

Chief Seattle Club & Sara Thomas

In this edition of the Reimagine Seattle series by the Department of Neighborhoods, Sara Thomas shares her story of "overcoming addiction, incarceration, and homelessness to help others in her community do the same".

What Are Some Root Causes of Racial Housing Disaparities?

Structural racism creates barriers that make it harder for BIPOC to get stable housing and build wealth through homeownership. The disparities created by this racism increase the risk of homelessness, health issues, and poverty.

Who Is Taking Action?

The lists below are not intended to be comprehensive. There are many wonderful organizations doing work in the community. We encourage you to continue exploring beyond this page.

Explore the City of Seattle's Actions Towards Racial Equity

See who to contact, what we'll deliver, and how we plan on meeting our desired outcomes.