NC in Focus: Housing costs burden 1.2 million NC households

More than one-third of American households (35%) were cost burdened in 2012, meaning that they spent more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a recent study by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. The 2012 American Community Survey shows that North Carolina is slightly below the national average: 1.2 million or 32% of the state’s households were cost burdened. Of these, 570,000 households (15% of all NC households) faced severe cost burdens, meaning that they spent more than half of their income on housing.

Sixty-five percent of North Carolina households were homeowners in 2012. One in four North Carolina homeowners (25%)—609,000 households—were cost burdened. This includes 250,000 (10% of all homeowners) with severe cost burdens.

In 2012, the median North Carolina homeowner household earned $56,000 and spent $905 per month on housing costs, such as mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance, and utilities. Compared to homeowners, housing costs for North Carolina’s renter households were slightly lower in 2012; the median renter spent $705 per month on rent and utilities. But, the median renter household income was only $28,400, half the median income of homeowner households.

Reflecting their lower incomes, North Carolina’s renters faced much heavier cost burdens: 46% of renter households spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities in 2012. A quarter of all renters—320,000 households—spent more than half of their income on housing.

The maps below show the proportion of cost burdened households in 2012 for each of the 72 Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMA) in the state. These are the smallest geography for which annual data are available from the American Community Survey and represent areas with about 100,000 persons. Populous counties, like Wake and Mecklenburg, contain multiple PUMAs; less populous counties are combined with other counties in a single PUMA.

NC Cost Burdened by PUMA

Looking at all households, the highest rates of cost burdened households in 2012 were in central cities: 46% of northwest Charlotte City households were cost burdened, as were 43% of households in northeast Charlotte City, 42% of households in south and central Raleigh City, and 40% of households in both Greensboro and Wilmington cities.

While some areas of Wake County had a high proportion of cost burdened households, other areas had some of the lowest rates in the state. Apex and Holly Springs PUMA had the lowest rate statewide, with 21% of households reporting cost burdens. The PUMA containing northwest Raleigh City and Morrisville town had the third lowest rate (23.8%).

Slightly different patterns emerge for homeowner and renter households, reflecting variations in underlying population characteristics. The south and west Albemarle Sound and northern Outer Banks region had the highest share of cost burdened homeowners households (37%), followed closely by northwest Charlotte City (36%). Two regions with large college populations—Boone High Country (Watauga—home to Appalachian State—and Ashe, Yancey, Avery, and Mitchell counties) and Orange County (home to UNC-Chapel Hill)—had the largest share of cost burdened renter households, 68% and 58%, respectively. This may be due to the influence of large, young student populations with no (or low) reported earnings in the American Community Survey.

Data Source: 2012 American Community Survey, IPUMS-USA.

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center.
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