Various types of housing in the United States

Housing in the United States comes in a variety of forms and tenures. The rate of homeownership in the United States, as measured by the fraction of units that are owner-occupied, was 64% as of 2017.[1] This rate is less than the rates in other large countries such as China (90%), Russia (89%) Mexico (80%), or Brazil (73%) (see List of countries by home ownership rate).

Housing in the United States is heavily commodified, and when viewed as an economic sector, contributes to 15% of the gross domestic product.[2] As in countries such as Canada or the United Kingdom, the United States is experiencing a crisis in housing affordability, with cost increases in housing vastly outstripping wage growth. From 2000 to 2021, the median rent more than doubled.[3] The amount of public housing is capped via the Faircloth Limit, and when available can only be offered to households meeting certain eligibility requirements.

More than half a million people are homeless. The geographic patterns of homelessness in the United States are explained by the high cost and low availability of housing, rather than variations in the rates of mental illness or drug addiction.[4]

Most houses in the United States are made from wood.


Housing as shelter is one of the "basic needs" of humans, offering protection against the elements.[5] It also provides a place of privacy away from the public eye where daily activities can take place. Residents often have personal attachment to a house, making it a home. A home's location, style and access to schools, parks, and other amenities can align a household to a greater community to reinforce cultural or religious bonds. These characteristics can also reinforce residential segregation and unequal access to amenities.[6]

Housing is also important to developers, builders, lenders, realtors, investors, architects, and other specialized professions and trades. These groups view housing as a commodity for financial gain.[6]

As the United States industrialized in the 20th century, demand for housing fueled job growth and consumer products to create economic growth. By the 1970s, the United States was being deindustrialized, and regional economies began to diverge: previously manufacturing-focused cities in the Rust Belt and elsewhere experienced population decline, and housing costs rose drastically in urban regions such as New York, San Francisco and Boston.[7] In 2016, housing costs in two thirds of the United States exceeded wage growth.[8] Housing prices have risen dramatically since the Covid pandemic and are unlikely to change anytime soon. In January 2020, the median home price was $290,499 – nearly 45% lower than the median home price in May 2023.[9]

For households earning 30% of the county's median income, most counties in the United States do not have rental housing considered affordable to at least half that income segment (one-third of 30% of median).[10]


A wooden home is reconstructed following a wildfire in California.

Wood framing is widely used in home construction in the United States, accounting for 90% of new houses in 2019.[11] Concrete is used to build a foundation, usually with either a crawl space, or basement included. Interiors usually have drywall. Roofing often consists of asphalt shingles, although steel, and tile materials are also used.[12]

Wood-frame construction in the United States is more cost effective than masonry, in part because bricks typically must be shipped farther and labor costs are higher;[13] however, it is perceived to be flimsy in comparison to typical European construction.[14][15] The federal government and insurance agencies have tried to promote concrete-frame construction and other basic techniques for resisting extreme weather events, but with little success: a 2017 report by McKinsey concluded that "the productivity of construction remains stuck at the same level as 80 years ago".[16]

Increasingly, some property insurers will no longer offer home insurance policies in regions where houses are often destroyed by weather events such as wildfires or hurricanes.[17]


See also: Housing insecurity in the United States and Housing quality and health outcomes in the United States

The 2021 Surfside condominium collapse briefly focused the country's attention on the structural integrity of its housing.

There are about 135 million homes in the United States as of 2016.[18] Housing researchers generally conclude that the supply of housing in the United States is too low to meet demand,[19] resulting in an affordability crisis.[20][21] Among the renting population, nearly half pay more than 30% of their income toward rent.[20]

Although a nationwide problem, the undersupply of housing is caused in large part by local community actions that discourage new development.[20][22] These include the imposition of regulations such as single-family zoning, minimum parking requirements, and height restriction laws that limit the density of new residences within a municipality or increase the expense and difficulty of construction. These tactics are related to the social phenomenon of nimbyism, in which existing residents, especially those who own property, work to stymie new construction.[20][22] In particular, the suppression of moderate-density housing such as duplexes and townhouses has resulted in a so-called missing middle problem that drives up housing scarcity and inhibits the development of walkable neighborhoods.

The typical age of a home varies by state, with a national median of 39 years.[21] A 2016 report by the Center for American Progress found that 30 million homes have health or safety hazards, such as problems with plumbing, natural gas, or heating; 6 million of these homes have structural problems.[18] Structural failures in condominium or apartment buildings have resulted in catastrophic loss of life, as in the 2021 Surfside condominium collapse.[23] Many of the 160,000 condominium buildings in the United States do not have sufficient funds to carry out major repairs.[23]

Poor-quality housing in the United States is associated with increases in chronic illnesses such as asthma and eczema, as well as the negative effects from the persistence of environmental lead (e.g., from lead paint that has not been removed). These effects are particularly acute in the dilapidated housing characteristic of dense urban environments.[24]

Public housing

For many, the demolition of Pruitt–Igoe in St. Louis was symbolic of the US attitude to public housing. The Pruitt–Igoe site remains largely vacant.

Main article: Public housing in the United States

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (December 2023)

Federal efforts at public housing began in the 1930s, with a series of New Deal efforts culminating in the Housing Act of 1937. This created the United States Housing Authority as a centralized agency with the power to disburse funds, while the work of building and maintaining public housing projects was largely devolved onto state and municipal public housing authorities. From the outset, public housing was tied to the notion of "slum clearance", and the 1937 Act required that for every unit of public housing that was built, another unit had to be eliminated.[25] Additionally, to protect the commodified housing market, the 1937 Act, and the 1949 Act that followed it, effectively restricted public housing to low-income households,[25] thereby concentrating poverty into these housing projects. The 1949 Act also required that targets of slum clearance (by then called "urban renewal") be given preference in public housing projects, further concentrating poverty.

The federal government began to enmesh public housing with private development through a series of acts in 1959, 1961, 1965, and 1968, and 1970.[26][25] The Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 established the Section 8 program, which directs public housing money to private landlords via means-tested rental assistance.[25] Private subsidy was coupled with an underinvestment in public housing, and large projects such as Cabrini–Green in Chicago and Pruitt–Igoe in St. Louis became notorious for their squalor.

The amount of public housing crested in the 1990s, with about 1.4 million units. Today, the number of units has been reduced to 1.0 million.[27] The fraction of US households receiving public or subsidized housing is far lower than the fraction in Western Europe.[28]


Main article: Real estate investing

Economists have noted increasing ownership of housing units by investors keeping the units vacant or renting them to the exclusion of traditional homebuyers. Investors bought about one of every seven U.S. homes in the first quarter of 2021, up from the prior three quarters, in which they bought closer to 1 in 10 homes.[29]


A homeless encampment across the street from a Victorian-era house in San Francisco

Main article: Homelessness in the United States

In 2014, approximately 1.5 million homeless people resided in shelters.[30] As of 2018, the Department of Housing and Urban Development reported there were roughly 553,000 homeless people in the United States on a given night,[31] or 0.17% of the population. Recent spikes in the homeless population include a 44% increase in Seattle in 2017[32] and 16% in the city of Los Angeles in 2019.[33][34] In January 2018 the federal government statistics gave comprehensive encompassing nationwide statistics, with a total number of 552,830 individuals, of which 358,363 (65%) were sheltered in provided housing, while some 194,467 (35%) were unsheltered.[35]

There is some geographic variation in the rate of homelessness, which is correlated with the cost and availability of housing.[4][36][37] Popular alternative explanations such as rates of mental illness or drug addiction do not explain the observed geographic variation in homelessness rates, nor do differences in regional climates.[4][36]

See also


  1. ^ "Homeownership: The American Dream | HUD USER". Retrieved 2022-03-02.
  2. ^ "Housing and GDP" (PDF).
  3. ^ Desmond, Matthew (March 9, 2023). "Why Poverty Persists in America". The New York Times. New York Times.
  4. ^ a b c Colburn, Gregg (2022). Homelessness is a housing problem: how structural factors explain U.S. patterns. Clayton Page Aldern. Oakland, California. ISBN 978-0-520-38376-0. OCLC 1267404765. Archived from the original on February 22, 2023. Retrieved November 10, 2022.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. ^ Denton, John A. (1990). Society and the official world: a reintroduction to sociology. Dix Hills, N.Y: General Hall. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-930390-94-5.
  6. ^ a b Carswell, Andrew T. (2012-05-31). The Encyclopedia of Housing, Second Edition. SAGE Publications. ISBN 978-1-4129-8958-9.
  7. ^ "Housing Is Key to Improving the American Economy". 2019-02-05. Retrieved 2021-01-21.
  8. ^ "Home prices rising faster than wages: Report". CNBC. 2016-03-24. Retrieved 2021-03-16.
  9. ^ Aratani, Lauren (2023). "Buying a home in the US is expensive – and that isn't changing anytime soon". The Guardian.
  10. ^ In A High-Rent World, Affordable And Safe Housing Is Hard To Come By (with map)
  11. ^ Semuels, Alana (2021-06-02). "Wildfires Are Getting Worse, So Why Is the U.S. Still Building Homes With Wood?". Time.
  12. ^ Anderson, L. O. (1975). Wood-Frame House Construction. US Department of Agriculture.
  13. ^ Blumgart, Jake; Yin, Steph (2019-08-09). "'We don't build them like we used to' — Why new houses aren't made of brick". WHYY.
  14. ^ Lewis, Roger K. (2012-11-16). "Heeding the cruel housing lessons of Hurricane Sandy". Washington Post.
  15. ^ Roberts, David (2020-01-15). "The hottest new thing in sustainable building is, uh, wood". Vox.
  16. ^ Flavelle, Christopher (2018-06-20). "Hurricane-Proof Homes Are Real. Why Isn't Anyone Buying Them?". Bloomberg.
  17. ^ Wile; Cui (2023). "Homeowners in California and Florida are running out of options to protect their homes". NBC News.
  18. ^ a b Campbell, Alexia (2016-07-25). "Gas Leaks, Mold, and Rats: Millions of Americans Live in Hazardous Homes". The Atlantic.
  19. ^ Badger, Emily (2022-01-20). "Something Has to Give in the Housing Market. Or Does It?". New York Times.
  20. ^ a b c d Sisson, Patrick; Andrews, Jeff; Bazeley, Alex (2019-05-15). "The affordable housing crisis, explained". Curbed.
  21. ^ a b Gray, Nolan (2022-01-22). "Stop Fetishizing Old Homes". The Atlantic.
  22. ^ a b Demsas, Jerusalem. "How Blue Cities Became So Outrageously Unaffordable" (Interview). Interviewed by Ezra Klein. New York Times. Retrieved 2022-02-05.
  23. ^ a b Orton, Kathy; Armus, Teo; Craig, Tim (2021-07-21). "After the Florida building collapse, condos struggle to fund big repairs". Washington Post.
  24. ^ Bashir, Samiya A. (2002). "Home Is Where the Harm Is: Inadequate Housing as a Public Health Crisis". American Journal of Public Health. 92 (5): 733–738. doi:10.2105/AJPH.92.5.733. PMC 3222229. PMID 11988437.
  25. ^ a b c d McCarty, Maggie (2014). Introduction to Public Housing (Report). Congressional Research Service. CRS R41654.
  26. ^ Overview of Federal Housing Assistance Programs and Policy (Report). Congressional Research Service. 2019. CRS RL34591.
  27. ^ Andrews, Jeff (2020-01-13). "Affordable housing is in crisis. Is public housing the solution?". Curbed.
  28. ^ Dreier, Peter (2018-04-16). "Why America Needs More Social Housing". American Prospect.
  29. ^ Glaze, Tim (2021-05-19). "Investors are buying up single-family homes across the US". HousingWire. Retrieved 2023-02-12.
  30. ^ "Here are 10 New Facts About Sheltered Homelessness in America". National Alliance to End Homelessness. November 10, 2015. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  31. ^ The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress. December 2018. Authors: Meghan Henry, Anna Mahathey, Tyler Morrill, Anna Robinson, Azim Shivji, and Rian Watt, Abt Associates. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
  32. ^ "Seattle's homeless population went up 44% in the last two years". Q13 FOX News. December 6, 2017.
  34. ^ Cowan, Jill (June 5, 2019). "Homeless Populations Are Surging in Los Angeles. Here's Why". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  35. ^
  36. ^ a b Demsas, Jerusalem (December 12, 2022). "The Obvious Answer to Homelessness". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on December 12, 2022. Retrieved December 12, 2022.
  37. ^ Ludden, Jennifer (January 25, 2024). "Housing is now unaffordable for a record half of all U.S. renters, study finds". NPR. Retrieved January 26, 2024. As the Harvard report notes, U.S. homelessness rates hit a record high last year. The Biden administration and housing experts link that squarely to a severe housing shortage that has helped drive up prices. "We simply don't have enough homes that people can afford," says Jeff Olivet, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. "And when you combine rapidly rising rent — that it just costs more per month for people to get into a place and keep a place — you get this vicious game of musical chairs."

Further reading