Severe Housing Problems

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Percentage of households with at least 1 of 4 housing problems: overcrowding, high housing costs, lack of kitchen facilities, or lack of plumbing facilities. The 2024 Annual Data Release used data from 2016-2020 for this measure.

Good health depends on having homes that are safe and free from physical hazards. When adequate housing protects individuals and families from harmful exposures and provides them with a sense of privacy, security, stability, and control, it can make important contributions to health. In contrast, poor quality and inadequate housing contributes to health problems such as infectious and chronic diseases, injuries, and poor development during childhood. Housing measures can also be considered proxy indicators of more general socioeconomic circumstances.1 Households experiencing severe cost burdens have to face difficult trade-offs in meeting other basic needs. When the majority of a paycheck goes toward the rent or mortgage, it makes it hard to afford health insurance, health care and medication, healthy foods, utility bills, or reliable transportation to work or school.2-5 This, in turn, can lead to increased stress levels and emotional strain.6,7

Find strategies to address Severe Housing Problems

Data and methods

Data Source

Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) data

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) periodically receives "custom tabulations" of data from the U.S. Census Bureau that are largely not available through standard Census products. These data, known as the "CHAS" data (Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy), demonstrate the extent of housing problems and housing needs, particularly for low income households. The CHAS data are used by local governments to plan how to spend HUD funds, and may also be used by HUD to distribute grant funds.

Website to download data
For more detailed methodological information

Key Measure Methods

Severe Housing Problems is a percentage

Severe Housing Problems is the percentage of households with one or more of the following housing problems:

  1. housing unit lacks complete kitchen facilities;
  2. housing unit lacks complete plumbing facilities;
  3. household is overcrowded; or
  4. household is severely cost burdened.

Caution should be used when comparing these estimates across years

Data should be compared with caution across years.  


The numerator is the number of households with 1 of 4 housing problems: lack of kitchen facilities, lack of plumbing facilities, overcrowding, or high housing costs. Incomplete kitchen facilities is defined as a unit which lacks a sink with running water, a stove or range, or a refrigerator. Incomplete plumbing facilities is defined as lacking hot and cold piped water, a flush toilet, or a bathtub/shower. Overcrowding is defined as more than one person per room. Severe cost burden is defined as monthly housing costs (including utilities) that exceed 50% of monthly income.


The denominator is the total number of households in a county.

Can This Measure Be Used to Track Progress

This measure can be used to track progress with some caveats. It is important to note that the estimate provided in the Health Snapshots is a five-year average. However, in most counties, it is relatively simple to obtain single-year estimates from the American Community Survey, referenced below. In addition, this measure is a composite of the four housing problems. It might be of interest to break these out using the data source listed below to more appropriately track progress.

Finding More Data

Disaggregation means breaking data down into smaller, meaningful subgroups. Disaggregated data are often broken down by characteristics of people or where they live. Disaggregated data can reveal inequalities that are otherwise hidden. These data can be disaggregated by:

  • Race
  • Income
  • Subcounty Area

Overcrowding by race can be calculated from tables B25014A-I. Lack of complete plumbing or kitchen facilities, housing costs as a percentage of income, and overcrowding can be calculated for census tracts and census block groups using table DP04. Severe cost burden can be found in census tables B25074 and B25095 broken out by owners/renters.  

In addition, the Community Commons Health Equity Assessment Report provides a census tract map of the rate of substandard housing. Note: you must log in to the website to access these reports. 


1 Shaw M. Housing and public health. Annual Review of Public Health. 2004;25:397-418.

2 Kushel MB, Gupta R, Gee L, Haas JS. Housing instability and food insecurity as barriers to health care among low-income Americans. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2006;21(1):71-77.

3 Ma CT, Gee L, Kushel MB. Associations between housing instability and food insecurity with health care access in low-income children. Ambulatory Pediatrics. 2008;8(1):50-57.

4 Long SK. Hardship among the uninsured: Choosing among food, housing, and health insurance. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute; 2003.

5 Levy H, DeLeire T. What do people buy when they don't buy health insurance and what does that say about why they are uninsured? National Bureau of Economic Research. 2003.

6 Hiscock R, Kearns A, MacIntyre S, Ellaway A. Ontological security and psycho-social benefits from the home: Qualitative evidence on issues of tenure. Housing, Theory and Society. 2001;18(1-2):50-66.

7 Dunn JR. Housing and health inequalities: Review and prospects for research. Housing Studies. 2001;15(3):341-366.