Affordable housing gap even wider for some households

May 01, 2023
| Posted in
house made of puzzle pieces

Households with low incomes face serious housing challenges across the Kansas City region. One factor is the limited availability of affordable housing. In our recent research, we found a gap of 64,000 affordable rental units. There are not enough units at the prices people with low incomes can afford. In addition, a significant portion of the units that are affordable to low-income households are unavailable because they are instead being occupied by people with higher incomes. Households with Extremely Low Incomes (ELI) need 44,000 additional units, or about two-thirds of the total number of missing units. We looked at race, family status, age and disability to better understand the impacts of the region’s affordable housing gap and found it is most pronounced in this lowest income group. 

Disparate Racial Impact in the Region 

There are a disproportionate number of people of color in ELI rental households when compared to the region’s rental households overall. All things being equal, one could expect the racial shares of the ELI renters to track the racial representation of the region’s renter households. However, it does not, which demonstrates that some groups are more impacted by the affordability gap than others. The largest impact is on Black renter households, as seen in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1.

The disparity between ELI renters in white and non-white households persist at the county level. In eight of the nine counties in the region, non-white households are overrepresented in the ELI category as shown in Figure 2. The largest gap is in Jackson County, Missouri, with a 12% difference between renters overall and ELI renters. This is in line with the county’s size and socio-economic profile. Our prior study on the affordability gap found Jackson County has the largest gap in affordable rental units. This reflects the size and needs of the county population. 

Figure 2.

Non-white renters in both Leavenworth and Miami County, Kansas, are over 10% higher in the ELI category. The difference in Wyandotte County, Kansas, is over 9% while Johnson County, Kansas, and Clay, Platte, and Ray counties are between 6 and 7%. In Cass County, Missouri, the percentage of non-white ELI renters is just under 3% below non-white renters in the county overall.

Families with Young Children

We also examined data on families with young children, defined as households with children under the age of 61. These families face a variety of challenges such as the cost of childcare and limited opportunities for full participation in the workforce. The additional demands on families with young children are particularly difficult to manage with extremely low incomes. These households represent over 17% of all rental households in the region. ELI renters make up 29% of all rental households with young children which is over 6% higher than ELI renter households without children. The proportion of ELI renter households with young children is higher in Jackson County, Missouri, and Johnson County, Kansas. In Jackson County, the overall proportion of renters with young children is about 5.8%, yet these same renters account for 10.6% of ELI renters. In Johnson County, the number of ELI renters with children was 3.35% compared to 3.1% of overall renters in the same category. All remaining counties in the region had ELI renter rates lower than the overall percentage of renters with young children. 

Figure 3.

Elderly Non-Family and Elderly Individuals

Elderly families and individuals are often operating on fixed incomes while managing rising expenses and debt2. Affordable housing is a significant need for those aging or aged out of the workforce or facing other aging-related challenges. The rental market magnifies these challenges.  Elderly non-family renters represent about 14% of the region’s rental households and nearly 24% of ELI renters. This overrepresentation of elderly individuals does not carry over for elderly families who are renting. These households make up just over 4.5% of the region’s rental households and 2.8% of all ELI renter households.

Figure 4.


People with Disabilities

The likelihood of mobility limitations increases as we age, impacting about 35% of people over 70 years old and over 50% of people over 85 years old10. We examined the CHAS data for rental households identified with an ambulatory disability, those households most likely to need accessible housing. We found rental households with this disability represented over 14% of the region’s renter households and 26% of all ELI renter households. By focusing narrowly on only renter households identified with ambulatory disability, we find 43% are ELI renter households. The high percentage of households with ambulatory disability in the ELI category points to a significant need for accessible and affordable housing. 

Figure 5.


Accessibility and affordability are significant issue for rental households in the region as it is for renters across the United States. An aging population nationally and in the region means the need for accessible and affordable housing will continue to grow. 


The region’s affordable housing gap impacts some renters greater than others, particularly those with extremely low incomes. Young families, elderly individuals, people of color and those with a disability face significant challenges in finding affordable and accessible housing. Affordable housing provides stability, improves quality of life and enhances opportunity, while its absence requires individuals and families to choose between spending their income on housing or basic life necessities. In our next project we will explore the relationship between housing and employment opportunities across the region.

Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) Data, 2015-2019 ACS 5-year Estimates, 
Office of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

2 Richard W. Johnson, Financial Challenges at Older Ages—and the Implications for Housing Options, Generations Journal, American Society on Aging, Summer 2020