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More Colorado Families Facing Housing Cost Burdens

June 2, 2011

DENVER - More renters are facing what's known as a housing-cost burden: paying a third or more of income on rent and utilities, according to a Harvard University study which also finds that the burden isn't limited to low-income families.

The study calls it a triple whammy: rising rents, higher utilities and smaller paychecks. The result is that half of all families in the United States spend at least 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities, and one in four spend more than half of their income on those necessities.

The Centennial State isn't immune to the trend, says Nancy Engelken, executive director of Housing Colorado!. About a quarter of all families statewide spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing, she says.

"No matter your income level, it's to really recognize housing in direct relationship to income and housing stability in direct relationship to income."

No more than 30 percent of a household's income should go to housing and utility costs, she says.

The study is important, says Skip Arnold, executive director of Energy Outreach Colorado, because it takes into account home heating and cooling costs as a critical piece of housing affordability.

"It's something that I call a bill that's on the top of the stack. If you don't pay your utility bill, then you run the risk of losing that service. And if it's shut off, you run the risk of losing your home altogether."

Many Colorado communities, such as Boulder and mountain resort towns, have a problem with housing supply and demand, Engelken says.

"You really have a mismatch between the availability of housing and the market demands on that housing. Who gets shut out? Invariably it's people who are struggling at the lower ends of the economic system."

No matter the income, Engelken says, spending too much on housing makes a family vulnerable for unplanned situations such as a job loss or an unexpected illness.

The Harvard study is online at jchs.harvard.edu.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO