Rent Burden
Predictor Assessment
Display Date

This predictor assessment describes how rent burden (i.e., when more than 30 percent of household income is spent on housing) affects financial health and the principles of mobility at all stages of life. Experiencing rent burden can reduce people’s savings and compromise their economic security. This can result in a lack of control over one’s life circumstances, including having to decide which necessities to sacrifice.

Evidence of the Relationship between Predictor and Related Outcomes

  • A study based on the National Survey of America’s Families found that children in rent-burdened households were held back in school more often, had lower overall health ratings, and experienced more behavior problems compared with other children (Aratani et al. 2011).
  • Nobari and colleagues (2019) found that severe housing-cost burden in Los Angeles was associated with an increase in the likelihood of childhood obesity among 2- to 5-year-olds (controlling for a child’s age, gender and race/ethnicity, mother’s education and body mass index, household income, duration between survey and outcome, and survey year).
  • Families with children who spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent must curtail their spending on other necessities. Severely rent-burdened households spend, on average, 35 percent less on food and 74 percent less on health care compared with families who are not severely rent-burdened (Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University 2019).
  • Federal assistance does not always prevent rent burden. Research on 30,000 Florida households that reside in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit units found that 43 percent of households with incomes below 50 percent of area median income were rent-burdened (Williamson 2011).

How Investments Can Influence the Predictor at State or Local Levels

At the local level, recent research suggests that rent control policies can reduce rents, increase residential stability, and protect tenants from eviction (Rajasekaran, Treskon, and Greene 2019). Communities could also consider policies to expand the availability of housing in general such as changes to zoning laws to allow for more construction and the development of accessory dwelling units.


The primary reference is marked with an asterisk.

* Aratani, Yumiko, Michelle Chau, Vanessa R. Wight, and Sophia Addy. 2011. Rent Burden, Housing Subsidies and the Well-Being of Children and Youth. New York: Columbia University, National Center for Children in Poverty.

Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. 2019. The State of the Nation’s Housing 2019. Cambridge, MA: Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

Nobari, Tabashir Z., Shannon E. Whaley, Evelyn Blumenberg, Michael L. Prelip, and May C. Wang. 2019. “Severe Housing-Cost Burden and Obesity among Preschool-Aged Low-Income Children in Los Angeles County.” Preventive Medicine Reports 13:139–45.

Rajasekaran, Prasanna, Mark Treskon, and Solomon Greene. 2019. “Rent Control: What Does the Research Tell Us about the Effectiveness of Local Action?” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.

Williamson, Anne R. 2011. “Can They Afford the Rent? Resident Cost Burden in Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Developments.” Urban Affairs Review 47 (6): 775–99.

Opportunity-Rich & Inclusive Neighborhoods

Related outcomes: Stable and healthy living environment; strong financial health

Mobility dimensions engaged: Economic success; power and autonomy

Couple Walking illustration